By Elizabeth Meier
The American Cancer Society now advises that women with an “unusually high risk of developing breast cancer, as well as women newly diagnosed with breast cancer” have an annual breast MRI performed in addition to an annual clinical breast exam and mammogram. An MRI “revealed cancers in the opposite breast that were missed by ordinary mammograms in 3 percent of cancer survivors” involved in a new medical study. An MRI is a diagnostic scan that can examine soft tissues, organs and bones. MRIs show soft tissue abnormalities and injuries with great specificity and articulation. The MRI scan is an outpatient procedure; afterwards you will be able to resume your day-to-day life. The current breast cancer screening guidelines for the American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute, and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force can be seen below.
Current breast cancer screening guidelines by organization*
American Cancer Society
Annual mammogram for women ages 40 and over.
Clinical breast exam every two to three years for women ages 20 to 40, and annually for women ages 40 and over.
Annual breast MRI for women whose lifetime risk of breast cancer is greater than 20%. Women whose risk is 15% to 20% should discuss the risks and benefits of annual breast MRI with their doctor to determine whether it is appropriate for them.
National Cancer Institute
Mammogram every one to two years for women ages 40 and over.
Clinical breast exam every one to two years.
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force
Mammography with or without clinical breast examination every one to two years for women ages 40 and over.
*All of the groups consider breast self-exam, which has not been demonstrated to save lives, to be optional. They also set no upper age limit on mammography, instead advising annual mammograms for any woman who can realistically expect to live at least five more years and would be a candidate for treatment should she be diagnosed with breast cancer.
“MRI’s value in detecting breast cancer is most evident in studies involving women at high risk for the disease. In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2004, Dutch researchers followed 1,900 women with a risk of breast cancer greater than 15% due to genetic mutations or family history. (The average lifetime risk is 12.7%.) For nearly three years, the women received yearly MRIs as well as semiannual clinical breast exams and yearly mammograms. Mammography detected 18 cancers but missed 22 that were found on MRI. MRI found 32 cancers and missed only eight that showed up on mammograms.” (Health.Harvard.edu)
“Breast Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a 3-dimensional test to evaluate the breasts. You are placed on your belly on a table that is surrounded by a tubular structure and requires you to lie still for about 20 minutes. A material called gadolinium is used for contrast and is injected prior to going in the tube. There is no radiation exposure. The test looks at the blood flow in your breasts and areas will “light up” if there is increased blood flow. It is important to note that certain conditions may prevent you from having this test. These include any metal in your body, any previous allergic reaction to gadolinium contrast material, claustrophobia and too much weight. The MRI is a magnet so any metal will be attracted to the machine. There is a maximum weight limit so being too heavy may also prevent testing. Breast MRI seems to be a good tool for women who have very dense breasts, where mammograms may be limited in viewing the breasts well.” (Doctor Oz)
The risk involved in having an MRI performed is minimal to non-existent. An MRI scan is one of the safest exams performed. MRIs do not use radiation, as opposed to X-Rays. However, MRI does have some limitations – If you have a pacemaker or certain body implants then you should not have an MRI scan. Be sure to ask your doctor if you have either (MRISG). The high cost of the MRI scan is one of its limitations; NBC News reports that while a mammogram costs roughly $100 to $150, an MRI can cost $2,000 or more at some medical centers, experts said. “It’s very, very expensive,” said Robert Smith, the cancer society’s director of cancer screening. Many insurers cover MRI screenings, but not all do, Smith and others said.
Thankfully, there are organizations such as MRI Scan Group (MRISG), who work with uninsured and underinsured patients to find them an affordable, reduced-cost scan at a location nearest them. With the help of MRISG, patients can receive a breast MRI at a fraction of the cost found at most medical centers. If you are at high risk of developing breast cancer, or have been newly diagnosed with breast cancer, take some of the financial stress out of the equation by using MRI Scan Group to locate an affordable breast MRI at a center near you. Visit their website for more information: http://mriscangroup.com/index.php