Ultrasound, MRI improve breast cancer detection

Adding ultrasound and MRI imaging to the detection protocol for women can improve detection rates of breast cancer significantly, according to study published in today's Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study covered more than 2,600 women, of whom 110 participants had breast cancer events. Of that 110, mammography alone detected 53 percent, while ultrasound testing alone caught an additional 32 percent, and MRI testing by itself uncovered another 8 percent, the study shows.

"Annual ultrasound screening may detect small, node-negative breast cancers that are not seen on mammography. Magnetic resonance imaging may reveal additional breast cancers missed by both mammography and ultrasound screening," the authors say.

The additional testing may not always be appropriate, particularly for women without insurance, or for those who have contra-indications for MRI testing, the authors note. But it is particularly effective, and more important, for women with dense breast tissue.

"While digital mammography improves on that a little bit, it is still a problem even with the best mammograms," Wendie Berg, radiology professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, tells AuntMinnie.com. "There is a lot of tissue that is the same whiteness as the cancer itself. ... In fact, more than half of cancers in women with dense breasts will not be seen on mammograms."

Berg sounds one cautionary note, saying that there is a significant risk of false positives and unnecessary biopsies with the addition of ultrasound and MRI imaging.

Add to that recent findings in the Annals of Internal Medicine showing that mammography screenings can actually result in overdiagnosis of breast cancer, and the jury may still be out on the ultimate value of adding ultrasound and MRI to the mix.

To learn more:
- here's the study's abstract
- read the JAMA announcement
- dig into AuntMinnie.com's coverage (registration required)

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