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Certain women with an especially high risk of breast cancer should get magnetic resonance imaging scans along with their yearly screening mammograms according to a recent recommendation from the American Cancer Society (ACS).

The ACS reports that the two tests together give doctors a better chance of detecting breast cancer early in these women, when it is easier to treat and the chance of survival is highest.

The recommendation is aimed at symptomless women age 30 and older who have a mutation in specific cancer suppressor genes, those who were treated for Hodgkin’s disease by radiation therapy to the chest, or those with a strong family history of the disease, such as women with two or more close relatives who had breast or ovarian cancer or who have a close relative who developed breast cancer before age 50.

The American Cancer Society reports that as many as 1.4 million women fall into the high-risk group. The Breast Center at MDI Hospital offers free risk assessments. Call 288-8435 for an appointment.

Doctors usually screen for breast cancer using mammography, an X-ray technique that can spot dense masses like tumors. MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, makes images with a magnet and radio waves and has been used in the past as a diagnostic tool to provide more detailed images of suspect breast masses revealed by screening mammograms.

In recent studies comparing breast imaging technology, MRI scans were slightly better at finding invasive cancers in younger women and those with dense breasts. MRI was also better at finding multiple sites of breast cancer in the same breast. Mammography was better at finding small calcifications associated with non-invasive cancers, which means that both types of screening are useful and complementary.

“Breast MRI is not recommended as a screening test for women with an average or low risk for breast cancer,” stated John Benson, M.D., Medical Director of Medical Imaging at MDI Hospital.

MRI as a screening tool for breast cancer is currently covered by some insurances. “As this recommendation becomes better understood, hopefully more insurances will cover breast MRI as a screening tool for high-risk women,” added Dr. Benson.

On a related topic, a study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine also indicates that MRI used on women with newly diagnosed breast cancer is more effective at finding tumors in the opposite breast. “As many as 10% of women with breast cancer develop a new tumor in the opposite breast,” said Dr. Benson. “Finding these cancers earlier provides additional treatment options.”

“This is good news for our patients,” added Dr. Benson. “We have been providing breast MRI services since 2002, and with on-site MRI along with our Breast Center, our patients can access this lifesaving technology in one convenient location. We recommend that women talk to their provider about this exciting new development.”

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