A Combination of Tests Increase Breast Cancer Detection Rates

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Mammogram Images. Left: healthy tissue. Right: cancer found in breast. Image by: National Institute of Health.

Mammogram Images. Left: healthy tissue. Right: cancer found in breast. Image by National Institute of Health.

Could MRI or ultrasound be the answer to the difficulties in diagnosing breast cancer in women with dense breast tissue?

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women in the United States: according to the American Cancer Society, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. X-rays of the breast, called mammograms, have been used to screen for, and to diagnose, cancer of the breast, but they cannot detect all breast cancers, and do not work well in women with dense breast tissue or women with breast implants. Recently, Dr. Wendie Berg from the University of Pittsburgh School of  Medicine conducted a study to determine whether adding an MRI or ultrasound to the yearly mammogram schedule helped to detect more cancers.

JAMA Breast Cancer Detection Study

Dr. Berg’s study, “Detection of Breast Cancer With Additional of Annual Screening Ultrasound or a Single MRI to Mammography in
Women with Elevated Breast Cancer Risk” examines whether or not additional annual MRI scans, or a combination of mammograms and ultrasounds, could detect more breast cancer cases in women who were at a higher risk for developing breast cancer. This three year study, published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that MRI screening detected more breast cancer than mammograms or mammograms combined with ultrasounds. However, the MRI screenings also had a high false positive rate, which means that the MRI detected what appeared to be cancer, but after further testing, was found not to be cancer. The study also found that annual mammograms, combined with an ultrasound, detected more cancers than mammograms alone. Ultrasounds are not as expensive and have not shown to have the high false positive rates compared to the MRI scans.

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