New guidelines created by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force regarding mammograms may be criticized for being patronizing or not rigid enough in the larger fight against breast cancer. But their effect on black women may be the most dangerous, and least talked about, of all.
No longer are women encouraged to get mammograms every year beginning at age 40. Instead, new recommendations suggest that women only need to begin getting mammograms at age 50, and only every other year.
According to the USPSTF, the rationale behind these revised guidelines is that “for women aged 40-49, the evidence that screening mammography reduces mortality from breast cancer is weaker, and the absolute benefit of mammography is smaller, than it is for older women… The absolute benefit is smaller because the incidence of breast cancer is lower among women in their 40s than it is among older women.”
Sounds fair enough.
But is it fair for the population of women most likely to die from breast cancer? According to the American Cancer Society, 76 percent of black women with breast cancer will live for at least five years, compared to 90 percent of white women. Recent studies have concluded that overall, black women face a lower breast cancer survival rate than white women. And additional research establishes that black women are more likely than white women to develop breast cancer under the age of 40. By not recommending mammogram screenings for these women when they are at a higher risk of contracting breast cancer, we are putting them at a higher risk of dying. Only through regular and early detection mammogram screenings do we have any hope of being able to help black women with breast cancer, especially with triple negative breast cancer, which is more fatal and disproportionately affects the African-American population.
Guidelines put out by governmental organizations and institutes need to consider how they will affect various ethnic and gendered populations and doctors must consider this as well. It is only by considering the racial gap regarding breast cancer that we will be able to take steps towards a just fight against the disease.