Routine mammography combined with regular breast exams helped cut the mortality rate from breast cancer. But mammograms, which are x-rays of the breast, can miss small tumors. MRI uses magnetic fields instead of radiation to create images after patients are injected with a contrast agent. However, MRI does not detect calcifications, one of the earliest signs of some types of breast cancer.
Mammography is the only way to detect calcifications. The two tests together give doctors a better chance of finding breast cancer early in high-risk women, when it is easier to treat and the chance of survival is greatest.
Do I need a Breast MRI?
The American Cancer Society has recommended yearly breast cancer screening beginning at age 40 for some time now. But we have always known that there is a subgroup that is at greater risk, such as those who have a strong family history of the disease.
High risk is defined as at least a 20% to 25% chance of a woman developing breast cancer during her lifetime. For patients with a very high risk for developing breast cancer, early detection is extremely important. Recent studies have shown that MRI is more sensitive than mammograms in finding tumors in those women with a genetic risk for breast cancer. An American Cancer Society panel endorses annual mammograms and MRIs for women whose risk is about 20 percent above average.
These include women who have:
- Tested positive for a breast cancer gene
- A close relative – mother, sister, or daughter – who has tested positive for one of the genes
- At least two close relatives who have had breast cancer
- Had chest radiation for cancer
The new guidelines state that high-risk women should begin getting MRIs and mammograms at age 30 unless they and their doctor think it’s better to begin at a different age.
Women should note that annual mammograms are still the standard of care for breast cancer screening. MRI screening is a very expensive tool that should be used as needed for high-risk populations. The new guidelines raise important questions for patients. Patients need to be reassured that it is important to ask questions and that they need to talk to their doctors to see what is recommended for their individual case.
Should you choose the Breast Evaluation Center for your breast care, the staff will be happy to work with your physician to accommodate your wishes. Please feel free to call the Breast Evaluation Center directly at (616) 847-5430 with questions or concerns regarding your care.