Why Black Women Should Consider Screening for Breast Cancer Earlier

Photo Courtesy of Mayo Clinic

Early detection and regular breast cancer screenings are key to reducing death from breast cancer. Mammograms remain the best tool available and have been shown to reduce deaths from breast cancer.

Age recommendations for when women should start yearly mammograms to screen for breast cancer vary. However, Mayo Clinic healthcare professionals have been firm for more than a decade that women should start breast cancer screening at age 40. Starting mammograms early is especially important for non-Hispanic Black women, who have higher rates of breast cancer compared to non-Hispanic white women.

Dr. Sandhya Pruthi, with Mayo Clinic’s Breast Diagnostic Clinic and Mayo Clinic Comprehensive Cancer Center, explains why Black women are at higher risk and should start screening for breast cancer earlier. “For years now we’ve known Black women tend to die of breast cancer 40% more often than white women. They also tend to have more aggressive cancers, known as triple-negative breast cancers,” says Dr. Pruthi. She says starting screening early may help reduce these disparities. “We’re trying to detect cancer early.

“Over 250,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer every year, and 40,000 women die from breast cancer every year. So, our goal is to detect cancer early and improve the prognosis so we reduce deaths from breast cancer. For Black women, we need to start screening, and we should be screening them much younger — beginning age 40 and sometimes even younger, in their 30s,” says Dr. Pruthi.

Detecting breast cancer early can improve prognosis and reduce deaths. Dr. Pruthi stresses the importance of understanding your individual risk factors, which can start with a conversation.

“I want people to come back to their primary care doctors and say, ‘Can you tell me what are my risk factors? Can you do a risk assessment and guide me on what is the best approach that’s individualized to my needs based on my risk factors?’ And that may mean screening someone younger with different screening recommendations,” says Dr. Pruthi.

Those different screening recommendations may include MRI in addition to mammography, whole breast ultrasound or molecular breast imaging.

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