Why Black women should consider earlier screening for breast cancer

‘For years now we’ve known Black women tend to die of breast cancer 40% more often than white women,’ Mayo Clinc expert says

What You Need To Know About Breast Cancer

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force announced in May that guidelines for mammograms were changing, recommending women start getting screened at age 40 instead of 50. For more than a decade, Mayo Clinic health care professionals have been making this recommendation, especially for non-Hispanic Black women, who have higher rates of breast cancer compared to non-Hispanic white women.

“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,” Dr. Sandhya Pruthi, with Mayo Clinic’s Breast Diagnostic Clinic and Mayo Clinic Comprehensive Cancer Center, said Friday during a Mayo Clinic Minute.

In fact, a 2022 study found biological links between an aggressive type of breast cancer and people of African ancestry. Researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine analyzed triple-negative breast cancer tumors from a diverse group and found a set of genes in patients of African ancestry that differed from people of European ancestry.

Pruthi said Black women should begin getting mammograms at age 40, “and sometimes even younger, in their 30s.”

Northside Forsyth oncology RN April Addison discovered her breast cancer at the age of 32.

Although 12% of all cancer cases worldwide are diagnosed as breast cancer, and globally it is the most common type, Addison said she wasn’t prepared for the news, considering only about 9% of all new cases of breast cancer in the United States are found in women younger than 45, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Northside Forsyth oncology RN April Addison was diagnosed with breast cancer in July. 
Photo courtesy of April Addison

Credit: Photo courtesy of April Addison

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Credit: Photo courtesy of April Addison

Early detection can improve a patient’s prognosis and reduce deaths. Pruthi added that women need to understand their 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,” she said.