Breast cancer screenings should now start at age 40, not 50

DES MOINES — About one in every eight Iowa women will develop breast cancer during their lives, and a rise in breast cancer cases among women in their 40s is bringing new preliminary screening guidelines. The recommendation now is to get mammograms every other year starting at age 40, instead of starting at age 50.

Radiologist Dr. Amy Patel says she doesn’t think those new guidelines go far enough to address women who are at higher risk of getting breast cancer.  “If you’re deemed high risk, we recommend an annual screening breast MRI from the ages of 25 to 29,” says Patel, “and once you turn 30, annual screening mammography, alternating every six months with supplemental screening in the form of breast MRI.”

She says all women should be risk assessed by the age of 25. Also, Patel says the guidelines don’t take into account breast density when deciding how often women are checked for breast cancer.  “It is a strong risk factor,” says Patel. “About 50% of the United States population who are women have dense breasts, and some women opt to have supplemental screening in addition to mammography, as dense breasts can obscure a cancer on a mammogram that can be revealed on a supplemental tool, such as breast MRI or ultrasound.”

In Iowa, it’s estimated that 2700 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year and nearly 390 will die from it. Only lung cancer causes more cancer deaths among Iowa women.