On Monday November 16, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) announced it would no longer recommend routine mammograms for women between the ages of 40 and 49, a group that accounts for about one out of six breast cancers. The recommendation is based on data that find that mammograms do reduce the risk of death in these women, but apparently not enough deaths to recommend that all women 40 to 49 should be screened.

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second most common cause of cancer deaths among African American women. This year alone, an estimated 19,540 new cases of breast cancer are expected to occur among African American women, and about 6,000 deaths are expected to occur. We know that the disparities in breast cancer between white women and African American women exist for many reasons, including later detection of breast cancer in African American women. Only about 51 percent of breast cancers diagnosed among African American women are diagnosed at a local stage, compared to 62 percent among white women. Later detection leads to poor survival rates from the disease, and in turn, needless loss of loved ones.

We cannot underestimate the importance of mammograms in detecting breast cancer at its early, most-treatable stage. The American Cancer Society acknowledges the limitations of mammography, and is determined to find ways to improve on the effectiveness of screening for breast cancer. To further its commitment to saving lives from breast cancer through early detection, the American Cancer Society is currently funding a large study to improve the accuracy of mammograms, as well as working towards improving access to mammograms for every woman regardless of her race or socioeconomic status.

The American Cancer Society continues to recommend annual screening using mammography and clinical breast examination for all women beginning at age 40, because mammograms save lives, and here at the American Cancer Society, we value the lives of our mothers, aunts, sisters, daughters and friends.

Otis W. Brawley, M.D.
Chief Medical Officer, American Cancer Society

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