Women at High Risk for Breast Cancer Should Consider Breast MRI Screening

Photo credit: Bigstockphotor
Photo credit: Bigstockphotor

Women at high risk for breast cancer due to a genetic mutation or a strong family history should talk to their doctor about annual breast MRI screening. According to a new study, MRI breast scans when combined with a yearly mammogram lowers death rates for women at high risk for breast cancer.

Breast MRI Screening: Can It Save Lives?

In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, researchers followed 2,157 Dutch women at high risk for breast cancer. Most of these women had a strong family history or were positive for the BRCA gene, a genetic mutation which dramatically boosts the risk of breast cancer. Women who are BRCA positive have a life risk of breast cancer that ranges from 50% to 85%, depending upon which BRCA gene they have.

The women in this study underwent six years of annual breast MRI screening along with routine mammograms and breast exams. The results? 93% of BRCA-positive women were alive at the end of the six year period. When they compared this to BRCA-positive women who weren’t screened annually with MRI, only 74% were still alive. The conclusion? MRI breast scans on a yearly basis in high risk women may lower their risk of dying of the disease when used in conjunction with mammography.

What are the Advantages of MRI Breast Scans?

Breast MRI screening is more sensitive than mammography, which means it can pick up breast cancers that mammograms miss. When high-risk women use it in combination with mammography the chances of missing a breast cancer are lower than when mammography is used alone. One disadvantage is expense. The cost of MRI breast screening ranges from $2,000 to $6,000. In addition, some women have a hard time dealing with the procedure because they’re placed into an enclosed space. Unfortunately, there isn’t an open MRI for breast scanning. Since MRI breast scans are less specific than mammograms, there’s also a greater likelihood of a false-positive test results where the scan picks up a “cancer” that isn’t there.

Why Are These Findings Important for Women at High Risk for Breast Cancer?

Women who are BRCA positive are at such high risk for breast cancer that some choose to undergo a prophylactic mastectomy to reduce their odds of getting the disease. This study shows that using a combination of breast MRI screening and mammography improves the outcome for women at high risk for breast cancer. Based on these findings, some women may choose to use this approach rather than the more radical option of removing their breasts.

MRI Breast Scans for Women at High Risk for Breast Cancer: The Bottom Line?

If you’re BRCA positive or at high risk for breast cancer because of a strong family history, talk to your doctor about combination breast MRI and mammography as a yearly screening tool.


Medical News Today. “MRI Screenings Reduce Breast Cancer Mortality in High-Risk Patients, Study Finds.”

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