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Breast Cancer Health Center

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MRI Beats Mammogram for Women at High Risk

MRI May Be Better for Women With Family or Genetic Breast Cancer Risks
WebMD Health News

July 28, 2004 -- Women with a family history of breast cancer or genetic risk factors, such as BRCA mutations, may be better off with MRI breast cancer screening than with mammography, according to a new study.

Dutch researchers found MRI breast cancer screening was better at detecting tumors at an early stage among women at high risk for breast cancer due to hereditary or genetic factors. The results appear in this week's issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

Women with a family history of breast cancer are at increased risk for the disease, and women with an inherited form of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene have the highest lifetime risk of breast cancer. These women develop breast cancer at an early age, yet mammograms in young women who have dense breast tissue can make screening mammograms less sensitive for detecting tumors.

MRI breast cancer screening uses magnetic resonance imaging to produce a highly detailed image of the breast. This imaging technique is not heavily influenced by breast tissue density to detect abnormalities.

Although MRI screening is very sensitive, researchers say it's not a viable option for widespread breast cancer screening due to the high cost, variations in technique, and the large number of false-positive results it produces. MRI breast cancer screening is currently used as a supplement to mammography in women at high risk for developing breast cancer.

Plusses and Minuses of MRI Breast Cancer Screening

In the study, researchers screened 1,900 women in the Netherlands who had a 15% or greater lifetime risk of breast cancer because of a family history of breast cancer or genetic risk factors, such the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. The women were screened every six months with a clinical breast exam and once a year by MRI and mammography.

Over the course of nearly three years, a total of 51 breast cancer tumors were detected.

For all invasive breast cancers found in the study, researchers found MRI was better at detecting tumors than other methods, with a sensitivity of 80% compared with 18% for clinical breast examination and 33% for mammography.

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