Following new federal recommendations for fewer breast cancer screenings, Black women could be facing more risk.
The science of breast cancer awareness has long been to screen, screen, screen, early and often. However the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommended that women hold off on their yearly screenings until they reach 50 years old, not the previously age of 40. The study, which was published this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine, said that the shift would result in catching about the same number of cancers (currently 81 percent), but it would cut the rate of untrue positive results in half.
Many cancer experts have decried this advice, especially those familiar with Black women’s risk of the cancer.
“These new recommendations could have a devastating effect on African-American women,” Marisa Weiss, M.D., founder of www.breastcancer.org, told NewsOne. “African-American women are more likely to get breast cancer than White women when they’re under age 40."
According to the U.S. Department of Health, Black women die from breast cancer younger (between the ages of 35 and 44) and at a rate double that of our White contemporaries.
“These guidelines that would start screening at age 50 would pass over the time of greatest risk for African-American women,” Marisa warned.
Added to the risk is the fact that Black women are more likely to develop "triple negative" breast cancer, which advances quickly and is more deadly than other forms. “When it comes to triple negative breast cancer, it’s a kind of ‘interval cancer’ that can sneak up in the time between mammograms,” the doctor added. “By the time you find it by feeling it or finding it at a significant size, it’s not stage 1 anymore.” Which is particularly disturbing considering the USPST recommends one fewer mammogram each year.
All of these changes could seem like something of a death sentence for Black women with undetected breast cancer, but the government wants us to know that the USPST’s findings are not the law–yet.
Secretary for Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius responded to the controversial report by acknowledging that it has “caused a great deal of confusion and worry." She continued by confirming that the USPST "is an outside independent panel of doctors and scientists who make recommendations," but they don’t set policy or "determine what services are covered by the federal government," reports The New York Times.
"The task force has presented some new evidence for consideration," said Kathleen, "but our policies remain unchanged. Indeed, I would be very surprised if any private insurance company changed its mammography coverage decisions as a result of this action."
According to the White House Communications blog, Medicare will still offer women mammograms under its program as well.
When in doubt about how frequently or at what age you should request a mammogram, Dr. Weiss advises women to "Know your family history. Know your risk."
— Whitney Teal