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MRI Works for Breast Cancer Screening

For High-Risk Women, MRI Scans May Supplement Mammograms
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WebMD Health News

May 7, 2003 -- MRI scans may be an effective breast cancer-screening tool for certain women. A new study shows MRI found breast cancers that mammography had missed in women at high risk of developing breast cancer.

Women at high risk include those who have been previously treated for breast cancer, have a close relative like a sister or mother with breast cancer, have the BRCA 1 or 2 gene, or have been diagnosed with a benign growth in the breast that could be a precursor to breast cancer.

In this study, presented this week at the American Roentgen Ray Society Annual Meeting in San Diego, Calif., researchers review the records of 367 women at high risk for breast cancer who had normal mammograms and then underwent MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) screening.

Based on the results of the MRI screening, doctors recommended biopsies (tissue samples taken from the breast) to check for breast cancer for 59 of the women.

"Biopsy revealed cancer that was not previously seen on a mammogram or felt on a physical examination in 17 (24%) of these women," says researcher Elizabeth Morris, MD, of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, in a news release. "Biopsy revealed high-risk lesions in 13 women and benign disease in the remaining group of women."

Morris says more than half of the tumors detected by MRI breast cancer screening were ductal carcinoma in-situ (DCIS), which are especially dangerous pre-invasive cancers.

The cost of MRI screening may not make it a viable option for widespread breast cancer screening, but researchers say it may provide a valuable supplement to mammography in women at high risk for developing breast cancer.

"While our study indicates that MR is a very valuable tool, more patients need to be studied and cost analyses need to be done before it is made universally available," says Morris.

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