Wasserman Schultz on Breast Cancer New USPSTF Mammogram Recommendations: Starting Screenings at 40 Makes Sense, But Delayed Advice Leaves Gaps

Today, I was glad to see the USPSTF is finally recommending that women start receiving mammograms at age 40, as this has been the general consensus in the medical community for over a decade, but I am very concerned that their full recommendations miss the mark.

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-25) released the following statement after the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force released its long-awaited final Breast Cancer Recommendations after eight years:

“Today, I was glad to see the USPSTF is finally recommending that women start receiving mammograms at age 40, as this has been the general consensus in the medical community for over a decade, but I am very concerned that their full recommendations miss the mark.

“Unfortunately, the USPSTF only recommends biennial mammograms for average risk women beginning at age 40, rather than annual screenings. This will once again create a discrepancy between the USPSTF’s recommendations and the majority of oncologists, cancer experts, and patient advocacy organizations who advocate for annual mammograms.

“This decision will create gaps in access to preventive care for younger women, placing additional lives at unnecessary risk. It also will create confusion for providers and their patients during counseling, scheduling of appointments, and navigating follow-up care or additional screenings. I am concerned that the USPSTF’s risk-benefit calculation in this regard is off-base, and with hundreds of thousands of new breast cancer diagnoses every year, will result in later-stage detection. This two-year period between screenings will allow many cancers to go undetected; these recommendations essentially write off many women.

“As a breast cancer survivor who was diagnosed early at age 41, I know firsthand the importance of having access to annual mammograms. Annual mammograms are a lifesaving tool, particularly important to Ashkenazi Jewish women and Black women, both of whom are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer before age 50 and have a higher chance of having a genetic mutation or are more likely to develop a more aggressive breast cancer, such as triple negative breast cancer. These recommendations jeopardize patient health and stifle one of our best tools to beat cancer: early detection.

“I also am concerned with the USPSTF’s decision not to recommend coverage for supplemental or secondary screening for women with dense breasts. For these women, additional screening is vital, but it is unfortunate that the USPSTF concluded they have insufficient evidence to balance benefits and harms of supplemental screening, regardless of breast density. The harms of missing breast cancer in a young woman outweigh the harms outlined in USPSTF’s findings, and access to advanced imaging addresses their misguided concerns.

“In making these recommendations, the USPSTF’s report indicates that there are several critical research gaps that restrict the USPSTF from making actionable evidence-based recommendations that address multiple important areas. Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the United States, and over 40,000 women are expected to die from breast cancer in 2024. For that reason, I plan to work with the Task Force and HHS to fund and prioritize the studies outlined in their report to ensure the Task Force has the necessary evidence to create the strongest evidence-based recommendations for all women and further reduce breast cancer morbidity and mortality, especially among those with the greatest burden of disease. 

“While the USPSTF’s recommendations for screening to begin at age 40 does address a necessary change, I am disappointed that it has taken over a decade for the USPSTF to put out this incomplete guidance.  I authored and passed the PALS Act in 2015 in response to previous rounds of USPSTF’s misguided recommendations in order to ensure women would have access to annual mammograms beginning at age 40. Today, due to the PALS Act, approximately 22 million women between the ages of 40-49 are guaranteed access to mammography with insurance coverage with no co-pay. The latest USPSTF Recommendations would erode these numbers and place lives at risk, but, fortunately, I have maintained a moratorium on their recommendations preventing their implementation.

“Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women and the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women in the United States. The USPSTF’s recommendations are vital for younger women because the Affordable Care Act requires most private health insurers to cover the services they recommend, including annual mammograms, with no cost sharing, making them free to patients. To save lives, we must make sure that every woman has access to the screenings she needs when she needs them. I plan to continue the PALS Act to ensure that women continue to have access to annual mammography beginning at age 40 as the majority of medical experts recommend.”