New guidelines suggest later, less frequent mammograms for some women

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LOS ANGELES (CBS) More debate on breast cancer screening for women. Now the American College of Physicians is out with new guidance that says average-risk women over 50 should get mammograms every other year.

Forty-nine year-old Norma Vaquerano is diligent about getting a mammogram every year. For her, it's personal. "One of my aunts was diagnosed with breast cancer about seven years ago. She passed away last year, so this is, y'know, 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 with the UCLA Jonsson Cancer Center. She says annual mammograms can sometimes do more harm than good -- from false positive results to unnecessary biopsies and surgeries. "It leads to a lot of anxiety that can be a really scary situation for women."

In the past decade, doctors have moved away from screening younger women and towards informed decision making starting at 40. Elmore says 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," she said.

Because of her family history, Vaquerano says she'll continue to screen annually. "My doctor was very aware and she was the one that initiated 'You need to do this.'

She believes it could one day help save her life.

The American College of Radiology disagrees with the new guidance, saying it could result in thousands of unnecessary breast cancer deaths. But The American Cancer Society says it's not uncommon for recommendations to differ. Its guidelines have also changed in recent years pushing the start of screening later.