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Leading Physicians At Odds Over Age For Women To Ramp Up Breast Cancer Screenings

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The debate over breast cancer screening for women is heating up.

The American College of Physicians is out with new guidance that says women over 50 with average risk should get mammograms every other year.

But as CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez found out Monday, not everyone agrees.

Medical organizations try hard to use scientific evidence to arrive at these guidelines. The trouble is that many of the studies use mammogram data that came from older, outdated technology. Modern digital, 3-D mammography is much more sensitive. That's part of the disagreement.

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Norma Vaquerano is diligent about getting a mammogram every year. For the 49-year-old, it's personal.

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Breast cancer screening. (Credit: CBS2)

"One of my aunt's was diagnosed with breast cancer about seven years ago. She passed away last year, so, you know, this is a subject close to my heart," Vaquerano said.

At what age and how often women should get screened for breast cancer has been a topic of debate in recent years. Now the American College of Physicians says the majority of average risk women ages 50 to 74 would benefit from mammograms every other year and that there would be no significant difference in breast cancer deaths.

"The benefit is less than we had hoped," said Dr. Joann Elmore of UCLA's Jonsson Cancer Center.

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In the past decade, some doctors have moved away from screening younger women and towards waiting until age 50 to begin screening. But Dr. Laurie Margolies, the chief of breast imaging at the Mount Sinai Health System, said that's a mistake.

"One out of 6 women who get breast cancer, get breast cancer in their 40s," Margolies said. "If over the course of a lifetime women who are now in their 30s wait until they're 50 to get screened, and then only every other year, about 100,000 women are likely die of breast cancer that need not have died."

Elmore said women need to weigh the benefits, harms and their preference for screening with their doctors.

"In the end, this should be the woman's decision and we should be trying to help women understand all the data and let women make the decision," Elmore said.

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Because of her family history, Vaquerano said she'll continue to screen annually.

"My doctor was very aware and she was the one that initiated, 'You need to do this,'" she said.

Part of the problem is that doctors are not very good at determining which women are at average risk. They can tell who's at high risk but not always the other way around.

Gomez said if insurance is willing to pay, there's little downside to starting at age 40.

Meanwhile, the American College of Radiology also disagrees with the new guidelines.

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