Mammograms at 40 recommended as more women under 50 diagnosed with breast cancer

When Nicole Anderson felt a knot in her breast, she said it didn't feel like a big deal. At least, not at first.

"I call it a dent in my left breast, and I was 31 at the time," Anderson said. "The last thing on my mind was that there's anything abnormal. I honestly was just in work-mode, too. So, I really didn't take the time to investigate it."

But two or three months later, things changed.

"It started to actually hurt," Anderson said. "I called my mom and I told her, 'I think I sprained my breast.' And, she was, like, 'You can't do that! That's not a thing! What's wrong?'"

Nicole was diagnosed with triple positive breast cancer, and found herself caught up in a trend of women under 50 being diagnosed with breast cancer.

Black women are more likely than white women to be diagnosed young, in their 30s and 40s. Many of them experience more aggressive breast cancers.

City of Hope Atlanta's Dr. Anita Johnson has been a breast cancer surgeon for nearly 20 years. Her youngest patient ever, she said, was a 19-year-old Black woman.

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"This is not new news to us," Dr. Johnson said. "Here we are in 2023, and the death rate for Black women is 40% higher than all races, and ethnicities. We know that they present at a much younger age. And so with that, the screening guidelines have actually never fit our population."

That may be changing.

An independent expert panel, The US Preventive Services Task Force, is now recommending all women start getting screened for breast cancer at 40, then get a mammogram every other year after that.

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Johnson supports that recommendation, but believes Black women should also be screened for risk factors for breast cancer as soon as their twenties.

"We actually need personalized screening. We need race-specific screening," she said. "It will not be the answer to lower the mortality rates for Black women with breast cancer. But, it is a start."

Nicole Anderson wrapped up her treatment in March.

"I had six rounds of chemotherapy, 11 rounds of immunotherapy, 25 rounds of radiation, and I had a mastectomy with a reconstruction on the way," Anderson said. "But, had I waited any longer, had I continued to push that out, I wouldn't be here talking to you right now."

She had no family history and was not a carrier of a breast cancer gene mutation, but believes intense stress left her vulnerable.  

"I'm happier than I've ever been, and I am significantly less stressed, purposefully so," she said with a smile.