MRI can reduce need for breast surgery

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is effective in early diagnosis of breast cancer in genetically high-risk women, according to a major US study.

The results, presented at the CTRC-AACR San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium this month, indicate that MRI (combined with mammography) is an alternative to preventative breast surgery for high-risk women.

“Earlier stage breast cancers are more likely to be curable,” said lead researcher Ellen Warner, Medical Oncologist at the Department of Medicine, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center, Toronto, Canada. “We can be fairly confident that if screening with MRI finds cancers at a much earlier stage, it probably also saves lives.”

The study divided 1,275 women with a gene mutation that places them at high risk for breast cancer into two groups: one screened with MRI and mammography, the other (control) screened only with mammography. The two groups were followed over several years.

There were 41 diagnoses of breast cancer in the MRI group and 76 in the control group, with proportionately fewer advanced breast cancers in the MRI group. The average size of the cancers in the MRI group was 0.9cm (with 3% of the cancers larger than 2cm), compared to 1.8cm in the control group (with 29% larger than 2cm).

Warner concluded: “These results will hopefully convince high-risk women and their healthcare providers that breast screening with yearly MRI and mammography is a reasonable alternative to surgical removal of their breasts, which is commonly done to prevent breast cancer.”