Doctors are expecting increased patient demand for mammograms as a result of new federal recommendations that lower the age to begin breast cancer screenings by a decade, starting at age 40.

At the same time, health care providers say they're still working to address care delays related to the COVID-19 pandemic. One study noted about 28% of patients reported delayed breast cancer screenings or diagnoses between May and July 2020. Another study shows that mammogram screenings remained below expected rates in early 2021.

“Í think we are still catching up,” said Dr. Amy Comander, director of the breast oncology program at Newton-Wellesley Hospital and medical director at the Mass General Cancer Center in Waltham, both part of Mass General Brigham system.

The U.S. Preventative Task Force made the announcement yesterday that regular mammograms to screen for breast cancer should start younger, between the ages of 40 to 74, and that screening should be done every other year. The task force that previously advised regular breast screenings begin at age 50. The recommendations align with a recent increase in breast cancer diagnoses among women aged 40 to 49, which rose 2% annually between 2015 and 2019.

Comander said it will be a challenge for hospitals to manage an influx of screenings of younger women because of the new recommendations, but acknowledges they’ll do their best to rise to the occasion.

“Our teams of radiologists, technicians — everyone is working around the clock to get patients in for their screening,” she said. “I am hopeful.”

Right now, patients have to wait about 6 weeks for a mammogram appointment at Newton-Wellesley Hospital. To support the increase in patient volume, the center has added later evening appointments, additional staffing on Saturdays, and additional days at offsite locations.

Boston Medical Center spokesperson David Kibbe did not provide GBH News with estimated mammogram appointment wait times at the hospital, but said BMC is “committed to ensuring our patients receive the care they need, when they need it most.” He added that providing that care remains a challenge at all health systems, and that BMC sometimes has “to prioritize diagnostic imaging over routine mammograms to handle patients with more urgent clinical issues.”

Among all women, breast cancer is the second most common cancer, behind skin cancer, and the second most common cause of death. Each year about 240,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women and 2,100 in men. In 2023, an estimated 43,000 women died of breast cancer.

It is critical to be diagnosed early and to follow the protocols of diagnostic exams because it could mean the difference in survival, said Danna Remen, director of development and operations at the Ellie Fund, a nonprofit organization based in Needham that provides services to men and women in active breast cancer treatment in Massachusetts.

“In short time periods, breast cancer can progress, and a curative breast cancer diagnosis — which is stage zero, 1, 2 or 3 — can become stage 4, which is metastatic and the only type of breast cancer that a person can die from,” she said.

Black women are 40% more likely to die from the disease than white women, but there are strides to address the disparity. Mass General Brigham has begun a United Against Racism program to reduce inequities for patients, staff and community.

Comander said many factors contribute to a higher incidence and mortality of breast cancer in Black women, including biology of breast cancer, access and treatment to medical care.

“With this new recommendation, hopefully more Black women are going to get in for screening starting at age 40, which is so important,” she said.