Delaying breast cancer screening until age 50 misses 20 percent of breast cancers, according to a study published by the American Journal of Roentgenology. The study examined 32,762 mammograms from women aged 40-79, as well as their prognosis and attendant risk factors. Of that group, 808 women received biopsies and 224 were diagnosed with breast cancer. Though the majority of breast cancers were found in women over 50, 18.8 percent were found in women 40-49.

Breast Cancer Controversy

This finding contradicts the breast cancer screening guidelines issued by the United States Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF), a government panel that recommends medical practices to doctors and healthcare groups. In 2016, they changed their recommendations regarding breast cancer. Instead of recommending women receive mammograms once a year starting at age 40, they recommended women receive them every two years starting at age 50. This change prompted an outcry from doctors around the country. They insisted that delaying mammogram screenings would delay diagnosis and put younger women at risk, exactly what this study found.

Why Women Should Begin Breast Cancer Screening at Age 40

Sixty percent of cancers found in women 40-49 in the study were invasive and likely to spread to other parts of the body. Most of them occurred in women who did not have a family history of breast cancer or a BRCA mutation, which would have made them eligible for early breast cancer screenings under USPSTF guidelines. Researchers concluded that if these women had listened to the USPTF, their cancer would have gone undetected until it had progressed to a much later stage, where it would have posed a much greater threat. The breast cancer survival rate is high if the cancer is detected early. Any delay in diagnosis considerably lowers the odds of survival. The researchers hoped both doctors and patients would consider their findings before deciding whether to follow USPSTF recommendations.