Questioning MRI after cancer diagnosis

    MRI is being used more and more often as a screening tool for breast cancer, but some doctors are questioning whether it’s any better than older imaging methods.

    Breast cancer diagnosis often comes with a lot of decisions that patients have to make — including whether or not to have an MRI. More and more patients are opting for the exam, but researchers say it may be of little use. (Photo: Flickr/thomas23)

    Listen: [audio:090702kgmri.mp3]

    Magnetic Resonance Imaging is a more sensitive test than mammography in detecting the extent of a cancer. Doctors have assumed MRI helps them chose which women are better candidates for less aggressive surgery, says Richard Bleicher at Fox Chase Cancer Center. But in a recent study Bleicher found that women who got an MRI actually ended up with mastectomies more often than women who didn’t.

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    Bleicher: It’s important for physicians to be aware and for patients to be aware in particular that more isn’t necessarily better and doesn’t necessarily improve outcome.

    Some say a full mastectomy is not necessarily a bad thing, and MRI can lead to peace of mind that no cancer has gone overlooked.

    Bleicher: We might say well why not do it anyway, what we did see we saw a short delay, a three week delay, in the time of workup.

    Taffy Anderson is a gynecologist who has had breast cancer. She says some women are willing to deal with the MRI drawbacks, such as misdiagnosis, in order to get an extra test.

    Anderson: Letting her make that decision if she wants to go ahead with the MRI based on this new data, or if the MRI showed something and her knowing that there may not be a cancer in the other breast but offering her a mastectomy and letting her make the final decision is not unreasonable.

    The American Cancer Society recommends only that high risk women get MRI after diagnosis.

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