On Tuesday, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended women begin getting screened for breast cancer at age 40 instead of 50—but Katie Couric says that isn’t enough.
Couric has been vocal about her breast cancer journey after being diagnosed with stage 1A last year. The former Today co-anchor has since used her platform to plead with women to get annual mammograms. She received her own diagnosis after being six months late to her screening, she shared on her website. Mammograms can be lifesaving, and research shows they have reduced breast cancer deaths by nearly 40% since 1990.
Still, mammograms miss about one in eight breast cancers, and women with dense breast tissue like Couric may face false-negative results. Couric needed additional screening to find the “olive-size” tumor in her breast.
Dense breasts have more fibrous and glandular tissue, and less fatty tissue, according to the National Cancer Institute. It’s difficult to distinguish between a tumor and dense tissue on a mammogram, so small tumors may be missed.
While calling the updated screening guidelines “exciting” in a recent Instagram post, Couric says they do not account for women with dense breast tissue.
“This task force, which is also responsible for telling us when we should get screened and what screening we should get did not recommend additional screening like ultrasounds or MRIs for the 45% of women age 40 and over who have dense breasts, which is kind of a bummer, honestly,” Couric says.
“If they had made that recommendation, insurance companies would be required to pay for that additional lifesaving screening,” she adds.
The task force addressed this concern, but did not update its guidelines to cover additional screening if necessary.
“We know that women with dense breasts are at higher risk of breast cancer and, unfortunately, mammograms do not work as well for them,” Dr. John Wong, task force member, said in a press release about the recommendation. “What we don’t know yet, and what we are urgently calling for more research on, is whether and how additional screening for women with dense breasts might be helpful, including through ultrasound, breast MRIs, or something else.”
Couric says the public can weigh in and comment on this recommendation up until June 5 on the task force’s website.