June 6, 2023
We are pleased to have the opportunity to express our views regarding the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Draft Recommendation Statement regarding breast cancer screening.
The National Center for Health Research (NCHR) is a nonprofit think tank that conducts, analyzes, and scrutinizes research on a range of health issues, with a particular focus on which prevention strategies and treatments are most effective for which patients and consumers. We do not accept funding from companies that make products that are the subject of our work, so we have no conflicts of interest.
While we support the task’s draft recommendation that women who are at average risk of breast cancer should undergo a screening every other year rather than annually, we are concerned that the task force’s recommendation of lowering the age of screening mammography from 50 years old to 40 years old is broadly applied to all women, rather than directed at groups most at risk. The guidelines are only supposed to be regarding women of average risk of breast cancer, and information is widely available to indicate some women are at higher risk because of genetic predispositions, smoking, obesity, family history, and other factors. Dense breasts are also a risk factor, but unfortunately breast density also makes mammography less accurate and tends to be especially high for women under the age of 50.
It is especially important to note that the most recent research, which may post-date the writing of these draft recommendations, had findings that suggested that Black females should start screening approximately 8 years earlier than White women, and that Hispanic and Asian and Pacific Islander females could start even later. For that reason, we urge the USPSTF to consider whether the recommendation to start at age 40 should only apply to Black women and to other women who also have higher than average risk of breast cancer at a younger age, whereas starting at age 50 or even later is scientifically supported for other racial/ethnic groups that have been studied.
We agree with the USPSTF that there is not enough evidence to recommend screening mammography for women 75 years old or older.
We also agree that biennial mammogram screening has benefits that outweigh the risks for most women between the ages of 50-74 and for women at high risk between the ages of 40-50, there is currently insufficient evidence that using additional screening tools, such as using an MRI following a screening mammogram, is beneficial even for women with dense breasts, unless a diagnosis is needed when abnormalities are shown during the mammogram.
We understand that the USPSTF may be reluctant to suggest different screening schedules for Black women or for any specific group of women, but we urge the Task Force to focus on the scientific data. In this case, that includes different recommendations based on race and ethnicity data. Women are capable of understanding why the age to start mammography screening may be different for women with different risk factors. What is confusing is when some physician groups recommend annual mammograms for all women starting at age 40, even though the data do not support that recommendation. USPSTF should not compromise its standards to be more similar to those recommendations.
NCHR is grateful for the opportunity to comment on this USPSTF draft recommendation. The National Center for Health Research can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 223-4000.
1) Kolb TM, Lichy J, Newhouse JH. Comparison of the performance of screening mammography, physical examination, and breast US and evaluation of factors that influence them: an analysis of 27,825 patient evaluations. Radiology. 2002 Oct;225(1):165-75. doi: 10.1148/radiol.2251011667. PMID: 12355001.
2) Barrette, Lori, Breast Density: What Women Should Know” University of Rochester Medical Center. 15 October 2015. <https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/news/publications/health-matters/breast-density-what-women-should-know>
3) Chen T, Kharazmi E, Fallah M. Race and Ethnicity–Adjusted Age Recommendation for Initiating Breast Cancer Screening. JAMA Netw Open. 2023;6(4):e238893. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.8893