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MRIs Complicate Routine Breast Cancer Screening

Armen Hareyan's picture

More women are now undergoing MRI scans in addition to annual mammogram screenings, but a new study suggests that it doesn't improve breast cancer treatment outcomes. Moreover, it delays treatment and causes unnecessary anxiety.

Women are recommended to undergo breast screening tests every year after their 40s. Mammogram is a widely available breast cancer screening method which should be done once a year. There is also magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which is much more sensitive that mammography and is recommended in cases when mammography results need to be clarified.

Since MRI is very sensitive, it gives a great amount of false-positive findings about breast cancer. To identify which findings are false and which ones are true, women should undergo biopsy, which is a procedure of taking a sample tissue from breast, examining the tissue under a microscope to see if there are cancer cells or no.

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After clarifying which cells are cancerous and which once are not, physicians recommend either mastectomy or lumpectomy surgery for breast cancer screening. Mastectomy is a surgery removing greatest part or the entire breast. It is recommended if the major part of the breast tissue is cancerous. Lumpectomy is a surgery when a small part of breast is removed and is recommended when only a few parts of breast tissue are infected.

Researchers from Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia looked at data from 577 breast cancer sufferers. The data was analyzed by a team of radiologists, pathologists, surgical, radiation and medical oncologists. There were 130 women who underwent MRI screening just after being breast cancer diagnosed and before undergoing a surgery. 27.7% of these women underwent mastectomy, compared to 19.5% of those who did not receive MRI screening. Researchers adjusted tumor size factor for both groups - they looked at those who underwent biopsy to clarify MRI results.

Researchers found that MRI women are 80% more likely to undergo mastectomy surgery without a further biopsy. This means that most women having the surgery did not have breast tissue properly examined. They just decided to undergo mastectomy, which means to remove more tissue to avoid further complications, even if tissue was healthy. Researchers also found that in such cases removing entire breast did not give better results than removing part of breast.

Moreover, MRI screenings in newly diagnosed women delayed actual treatment by 22.4 days. It is known that the earlier treatments start, the better outcomes are, and delaying treatment due to unnecessary screenings is not recommended. Moreover, women who discover they have numerous suspected tissues get worried and may make wrong decisions because of anxiety.

Researchers concluded that routine MRI screenings may make patients take their breast cancer more dangerous than it actually is and undergo unnecessary aggressive treatment. Now they suggest that MRIs should be given to selected women only, especially if they are identified to be at high risk. Those with strong family background or who test positive for BRCA1, BRCA2 gene are at high risk, but even they are not recommended to undergo MRI screenings every year.