Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Breast Cancer Health Center

Font Size

High-Risk Women: MRI Shows More Breast Cancer

Mammography, Ultrasound Often Miss Small Tumors
WebMD Health News

Sept. 14, 2004 -- For women with genetic risk, MRI is the best choice for breast cancer screening, a new study shows. MRI can detect small tumors often missed by mammography and ultrasound, researchers say.

Inherited genetic mutations in the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 increase the risk of developing breast cancer, they are very rare and account for only 5%-10% of all breast cancers diagnosed in the U.S.

For most women, mammography is still considered the gold-standard screening for breast cancer. But for women with the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, studies have shown that mammography catches only 50% of all breast cancer tumors. However, another 50% of tumors develop between screenings.

Experts say that surveillance for breast cancer in these high-risk women should include monthly self-breast exam starting at age 20, semiannual breast exams by a health care professional staring between 20-35 years old, and annual mammograms beginning at 25 to 35 years old.

For other women, age 40 is the recommended age to begin to screen for breast cancer with mammogram.

For women with dense breasts tissue, MRI has proven to be a highly sensitive screening tool in detecting abnormalities Ultrasound also works well with these women -- although the results depend on operator experience, and there are often false-positives, writes researcher Ellen Warner, MD, a medical oncologist with Toronto-Sunnybrook Regional Cancer Center in Toronto, Canada.

Her study, which appears in this week's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, is the largest study to date of women with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations, Warner writes. A number of studies have also shown that MRI may be beneficial for high-risk women, but it has not been tested as a screening tool in women with BRCA mutations, she notes.

"MRI has emerged as an extremely powerful tool in breast cancer [detection]," writes Mark E. Robson, MD, with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, in an accompanying editorial. Warner's study "provides important new information for women at hereditary risk."

The Details

Warner's study involved 236 Canadian women aged 25-65 years old with BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutations. All got up to three screenings yearly -- MRI, mammography, and ultrasound -- over a six-year period. Breast exams by health care professional were performed on the day of screening and at six-month intervals. Biopsies were performed if anything looked suspicious.

Today on WebMD

Breast Cancer Overview
From self-exams and biopsies to reconstruction, we’ve got you covered.
Dealing with breast cancer
Get answers to your questions.
woman having mammogram
Experts don’t agree on all fronts, but you can be your own advocate.
woman undergoing breast cancer test
Many women worry. But the truth? Most abnormalities aren’t breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Treatments Improving
Resolved To Quit Smoking
Woman getting mammogram
Screening Tests for Women
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
serious woman
what is your cancer risk
10 Ways to Revitalize Slideshow