MRIs Helpful for Past Breast Cancer Patients, Study Finds

Women who have battled breast cancer should consider getting an MRI screening of their breasts every year in addition to a mammogram, according to a new study.

The study's recommendation goes beyond the guidelines of the American Cancer Society, which recommend MRI screenings only for women who have a breast cancer gene mutation or a strong family history that pushes their lifetime risk of developing the disease to one in five. (The average U.S. woman has a 1 in 8 chance of developing breast cancer.)

Those guidelines say there isn't enough evidence to recommend for or against MRI screenings in women who have already had breast cancer , but the new research shows these women can benefit from MRIs.

"In our study using breast MRI screening, we actually detected proportionally more cancers in women with a personal history of breast cancer, compared with those women with a genetic mutation or strong family history who are currently recommended to have breast MRI," Dr. Wendy B. DeMartini, an assistant radiology professor at University of Washington Medical Center, said in a statement.

Women with a personal history of breast cancer were also less likely than other women to have a falsely positive MRI result that leads to unnecessary additional testing or a biopsy, she said.

DeMartini and her colleagues reviewed breast MRI exams of 1,026 women from January 2004 to June 2009. Of the women in the study, 327 had a breast cancer gene or family history of breast cancer, and 646 had a personal history of breast cancer .

More than 3 percent of the women who'd had breast cancer developed cancer during the study, compared with 1.5 percent of the women with a genetic or family history, according to the study.

And the MRI screenings detected cancers with more accuracy in the women with a personal history of breast cancer than in the women with the genetic or family history, the study said.

"Our findings show that the diagnostic performance of MRI in patients with a personal history of treated breast cancer supports consideration of screening MRI as an adjunct to mammography," DeMartini said.

Though the findings are promising, more studies are needed before the guidelines could be changed, she said.

Guidelines surrounding mammograms have become somewhat controversial. Currently, the American Cancer Society recommends annual mammograms for women with an average risk of breast cancer starting at age 40, and the National Cancer Institute recommends women age 40 and older get a mammogram every year or two.

However, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued new recommendations last year advising that only women age 50 or older should have a mammogram every other year, because screening earlier or more often than that could bring false detections of tumors that could lead to unnecessary biopsies and anxiety.

The findings were presented today (Nov. 29) in Chicago at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

Live Science Staff
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