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Can Breast MRI Help Evaluate Cancer?

Study Weighs the Benefits, Risks of Routine Breast MRIs for Cancer Evaluation

Breast MRI Research Evolving

Another expert, Constance Lehman, MD, PhD, professor and vice chair of radiology and head of breast imaging at the University of Washington Medical Center and director of imaging at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, reviewed the study for WebMD. She says the new study is "not the kind of study we need to make firm conclusions."

She points out that the study was small and that only 130 women had breast MRIs.

Research on the value of breast MRI when used in cancer treatment decision is evolving, she says, and not all the answers are in.

The Bleicher study has inherent limitations, she says, because it wasn't a study that randomized people to get one treatment or not. Rather, it was a study that took a look backward, and it lacked some information, such as why some women got MRIs and others didn't.

The findings from the current study, she says, don't hold up at her center.

"This study shouldn't rule out a preoperative MRI,'' she says. "This is one abstract from one center that did one study in a very select group of patients."

She points to another study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, which reviewed the results of 19 studies and found the rate of mastectomy because of false positives on the MRI is 1%.

Breast MRI: Advice for Women

If a woman has suspected or diagnosed breast cancer, Lehman says, she should ask about the potential benefits and risk of a breast MRI.

"Go to a center with a high level of experience," she advises.

Bleicher's advice: "Women who walk into their doctor's office with breast cancer should not be immediately thinking, 'I have to have an MRI.' There are false positives [to MRIs], unnecessary biopsies, a lot of anxiety ... and a three-week delay [to treatment]. All these disadvantages have not been offset by an improvement in our ability to choose the proper treatment."

More study is needed, he says, to decide the best role for breast MRI in cancer diagnosis.

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