A medical-imaging study published in the journal Radiology claims that magnetic resonance imaging can help detect additional breast cancer in patients who have already received a positive diagnosis via mammogram.
For the study, a team of researchers reviewed the medical records of over 2,000 breast cancer patients who underwent a mammogram, an MRI and biopsy. The researchers found that the MRI scan detected additional cancer the mammogram missed in 14 percent of patients – a majority of whom had particularly dense breast tissue. Additionally, the MRI identified new tumors – some of which were over one centimeter in size – in other areas of the breast that presented cancer-free during the mammogram.
Dr. Chiara Iacconi, the study's lead author, said she and her collaborators initiated the research to add hard data to the discipline-wide discussion on the MRI's place in breast cancer screening and treatment regimens.
"Patients with clinically insignificant cancers undergoing potential overtreatment versus patients who may be undertreated is at the heart of the controversy surrounding breast MRI," she said in a Radiological Society of North America news release.
The Screening Quandary
Over the past couple of years, oncologists and preventive organizations have seriously questioned long-established screening practices. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the American Cancer Society eased their screening guidelines to address rising false-positive rates, reported The New York Times. According to CNN, these changes elicited criticism from the key figures like Dr. Marisa Weiss, president of Breastcancer.org.
"The ACS made the value judgment that screening is only worth it if it improves survival," she told the news organization. "There's an arrogance to that. Let women decide what's meaningful to them."
However, some medical experts admit that standard screening technologies like the mammogram are imperfect and must be revisited, reported Time Magazine. Research, including a vast study published by The British Medical Journal, has supported these sentiments.
MRI On The Rise
Currently, a variety of organizations advise women with an elevated risk of breast cancer to undergo an MRI scan. And studies have shown that these scans consistently catch more cancer in women with a high risk for the disease than mammograms, reported The Times. Recently, researchers also found that MRIs could improve a physician's ability to assess breast cancer risk in women as young as 18.
There are drawbacks to the widening role of the MRI in breast cancer screening. For one, these scans are incredibly expensive. According to The Times, breast MRIs cost between $1000 and $2000. Additionally, not all insurance providers cover these extra scans. They also don't meaningfully address the issue of false positives.
A Complementary Approach
Mammograms and MRIs each have their own merits. Mammography is an effective tool for finding non-invasive breast cancers while its magnetic counterpart is best at identifying invasive instances of the disease, reported NPR. As a result, most medical professionals see them as a complementary screening tools.
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