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MRI Urged for High Breast Cancer Risk

American Cancer Society Recommends Annual Breast MRI for Very High-Risk Women
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 28, 2007 -- Women at very high risk of breast cancer -- fewer than 1 in 50 U.S. women -- should get yearly breast MRIs, the American Cancer Society (ACS) now recommends.

Mammograms and ultrasound imaging have to scan through layers of tissue to find budding breast cancers. But scans with MRI -- magnetic resonance imaging -- provide detailed, cross-sectional images of the inside of the breast. It finds more suspicious areas than other techniques.

The problem with MRI is that it is too good. That is, it finds a lot of suspicious spots that turn out not to be breast cancer. For most women, routine MRI screening would mean many unnecessary biopsies and a lot of unnecessary anxiety.

It's a different story for women whose family histories or genetic inheritance put them at very high risk of breast cancer. Suspicious MRI findings in such women all too often turn out to be cancer. And early detection is the key to cure.

That's why the ACS convened an expert panel to determine exactly which women should -- and should not -- get regular MRI breast cancer screening. Panel chair Christy Russell, MD, is co-director of the University of Southern California breast center.

"These guidelines are a critical step to help define who should be screened using MRI in addition to mammography," Russell says in a news release. "Women at very high risk of breast cancer can be diagnosed much earlier when combining the two technologies rather than using mammography alone."

Which Women Need Breast MRI?

The ACS panel says women should get annual breast MRIs if:

  • They carry mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 breast cancer genes.
  • They have a parent, sibling, or child with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, even if they have yet to be tested themselves.
  • Their lifetime risk of breast cancer has been scored at 20%-25% or greater, based on one of several accepted risk-assessment tools that look at family history and other factors.
  • They had radiation to the chest between the ages of 10 and 30.
  • They have a rare medical condition linked to breast cancer -- Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Cowden syndrome, or Bannayan-Riley-Ruvalcaba syndrome -- or have a parent, sibling, or child with one of these syndromes.

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