American Cancer Society reports that breast cancer will claim the lives of roughly 43,000 women in America this year, and Black women suffer the highest death rate from the disease.
Right now, there is some disagreement about the optimal age for women to start screening mammograms, but one thing that is not in dispute is that women should adjust the age of their first mammogram based on their individual risk for breast cancer. A new study is putting added weight on a woman’s race and ethnicity to adjust that risk.
A study published in the Medical Journal Jama Network Open found that clinical trials may be needed to investigate whether Black women should start getting mammograms at younger ages.
While this group is less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer when compared to white women, Black women have a 40% higher breast cancer death rate.
The exact reason why is unclear. Breast cancer screening guidelines can be confusing.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force medical experts, whose recommendations help guide doctors’ decisions, recommend screening every two years starting at age 50. They say the decision to screen at an earlier age should be made based on the individual. However, many medical groups, including the American Cancer Society, already emphasize that women can start getting mammograms every year at age 40.
“Know your breasts. Know when to start screening,” said Dr. Sandhya Pruthi, a breast cancer researcher. “Understand their risk factors and use that information when they’re with their providers because when you do make that effort, I think the uptick of mammograms is higher. Women are more likely to get one if they understand why they’re getting it.”
Pruthi stated there also needs to be a focus on making sure diverse populations have access to breast cancer screening tools and that screening is affordable.
Below are tips on how you can prepare for a mammogram, courtesy of the American Cancer Society:
- If you have a choice, go to a facility that specializes in mammograms and does many mammograms a day.
- Try to go to the same facility every time so that your mammograms can easily be compared from year to year.
- If you’re going to a facility for the first time, bring a list of the places and dates of mammograms, biopsies, or any other breast procedures you’ve had before.
- If you’ve had mammograms at another facility, try to get those records to bring with you to the new facility (or have them sent there) so the old pictures can be compared to the new ones.
- Schedule your mammogram for when your breasts aren’t likely to be tender or swollen, to help reduce discomfort and get good pictures. Try to avoid the week just before your period.
- On the day of the exam, don’t apply deodorant, antiperspirant, powders, lotions, creams, or perfumes under your arms, or on or under your breasts. Some of these contain substances that can show up on the X-ray as white spots. If you’re not going home after your exam, you might want to take your deodorant or antiperspirant with you to put on after your exam. (Many centers will have cleaning and deodorant wipes to help you wipe off the deodorant and then replace it after the exam.)
- You might find it easier to wear a skirt or pants so that you’ll only need to remove your top and bra for the mammogram.
- Discuss any recent changes or problems in your breasts with your healthcare provider before getting the mammogram. (If you have symptoms, you may need a diagnostic mammogram so special images can be taken of the area of concern.)
- Make sure your provider is aware of any part of your medical history that could affect your breast cancer risk—such as surgery, hormone use, breast cancer in your family, or if you’ve had breast cancer before.