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BUDDY CHECK 6: Mammograms may not be enough to catch breast cancer

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – You may need more than a mammogram to check for breast cancer and not even know it.

An annual mammogram is the gold standard for screening, but doctors say it’s not perfect. So some state governments are taking action.

In fact, Virginia and New York have a new law to help women know whether they need additional testing to check for warning signs.

For some women it could make a critical difference. Women like Hallie Leighton.

Leighton was 39 years old when doctors told her she had breast cancer, which was already stage four.

“Since there was evidence it spread to other parts of my body I was now incurable,” says Leighton. “They said you’re going to be on treatment for the rest of you life.”

With a family history for breast cancer, Leighton started mammograms at age 35. The tests didn’t show cancer, but her doctor didn’t tell Leighton her breasts were dense which can make the x-ray difficult to read.

Instead of sending her for additional testing such as ultrasound or MRI, the doctor never brought it up.

Leighton’s case is not that unusual. The National Cancer Institute says mammograms miss up to 20-percent of breast cancers.

Which is why New York’s legislature just passed a bill requiring health care providers to notify women if their breasts are dense so they can discuss other options with their doctors.

The medical community is mostly opposed over concerns the legislation could lead to unnecessary testing.

Doctor Freya Schnabel with NYU Langone Medical Center says it’s important for doctors and patients to know all the facts.

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