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Can Breast MRI Help Evaluate Cancer?

Study Weighs the Benefits, Risks of Routine Breast MRIs for Cancer Evaluation
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 8, 2008 -- Routine use of breast MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans to help evaluate cancer after diagnosis is not as beneficial as some believed, according to a new study.

"The bottom line is it doesn't help us as much as we thought it did," says Richard J. Bleicher, MD, a surgical oncologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia and lead author of the study, presented Saturday at the American Society of Clinical Oncology Breast Cancer Symposium in Washington, D.C.

But another expert who reviewed the study abstract for WebMD says the study was small and that the role of breast MRI to evaluate cancer is still evolving.

On one point all sides seem to agree: More research is needed to determine if MRI can improve the outcomes of women with breast cancer.

Breast MRI

Bleicher and his colleagues reviewed the records of 577 breast cancer patients, including 130 who had MRIs before treatment and 447 who did not. The goal was to determine the effect, if any, of getting an MRI on the time to start treatment, the chances of removal of all the cancer, and other outcomes.

"We wanted to ascertain whether routine MRIs [for cancer, not for screenings] are helpful and do they, in fact, assist us in treatment planning," Bleicher tells WebMD.

The role of breast MRI for screening, he says, is clearer. The American Cancer Society, for instance, advises that MRIs be used in combination with mammograms for preventive screenings of certain women at especially high risk of breast cancer.

But the role of the breast MRI to evaluate breast cancer is not as clear, he says.

The thinking among experts, he says, is that MRIs, because they are so sensitive, may allow better visualization of the cancer, so using one when cancer is diagnosed or suspected should help guide treatment decisions.

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