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Bi-annual MRI More Effective than Annual Mammogram for Breast Cancer Detection

Young women with genes associated with a high risk of breast cancer should undergo two magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans a year instead of an annual mammogram, according to research that was presented at the most recent San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.

According to researchers at the University of Chicago Medicine and the University of Washington Seattle, bi-annual scans are more effective than the traditionally recommended annual mammogram. For their study, the researchers evaluated 295 women with the average age of 43.3 and whose risk for breast-cancer was higher than 20 percent. Fifty-three percent of the women had one of 11 identified “breast-cancer related genetic abnormalities” and 75 percent of that group had BRCA1 mutations and 61 had BRCA2 mutation. The study also featured women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer or ductal carcinoma in situ before the age of 35.

On average, every participant underwent seven MRIs and four mammograms. These studies uncovered a total of 17 cancers, including four ductal carcinoma in situ and 13 early stage breast cancers. Fortunately, none of these cancers spread to the lymph nodes and all cancers were smaller than a centimeter. Those participants with cancer were evaluated between .5 to 11 years and all had reported an increase in quality of life.

"For these patients, annual mammography did not provide any additional benefit to bi-annual dynamic contrast-enhanced MRI scans," wrote the authors.

This study could significantly change the way we approach breast cancer screening. "MRI is much more sensitive than mammography," said Greg Karczmar, PhD, professor of radiology at the University of Chicago. "It can find invasive breast cancers sooner than mammograms and it can rule out abnormalities that appear suspicious on a mammogram. Unfortunately, MRI is much too expensive for routine screening."

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