Mammograms, breast cancer treatment saving thousands of lives

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NEW YORK (CBS) Niki Kollia, 43, was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer exactly a year ago after a mammogram detected tiny calcium deposits.

She says it if wasn't for her annual screenings, the cancer may not have been picked up.

"Didn't have a family history, I don't drink, I don't smoke, I work out, my lifestyle is relatively healthy," Kollia said.

New research in the journal Cancer finds that over the past 30 years, more than 500,000 cancer deaths have been prevented.

"The amount of lives being saved is absolutely remarkable," said Dr. Freya Schnabel, the director of breast surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center.

Those advances include a better understanding of the science behind the disease and targeted treatments.

But when to start breast cancer screenings and how often to get them has become a source of debate. The American Cancer Society suggests women 40-44 should have a choice to start annual mammograms and women 45-54 should be screened every year.

Schnabel says women should know their breast cancer risk.

"Screening plays a large role in early detection of breast cancer... to allow the patients who are diagnosed early to have better and more favorable treatment," Schnabel said.

For Kollia, that meant avoiding chemotherapy. She chose to have a double mastectomy and reconstruction surgery. She often shares her story with other women.

"Look, in my case, it saved my life. It could do the same thing for you," Kollia said.

She believes it's a simple test that shouldn't be put off.

It's estimated that only about half the women in the U.S. over 40 receive regular mammography screenings.