For young women with a high genetic risk of breast cancer, twice-yearly MRI exams are more effective for detecting early disease than an annual mammogram, according to new research presented at the 2017 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS) in Texas.

Researchers from the University of Chicago and the University of Washington in Seattle found that an intensive surveillance protocol consisting of a MRI exam every six months was much more effective than an annual mammogram in detecting breast cancer in younger women with a high-risk genetic profile.

What is Breast MRI?

MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) of the breast offers valuable information about many breast conditions that cannot be obtained by other imaging modalities, such as mammography or ultrasound. MRI is an advanced imaging technique that uses a powerful magnetic field, radio frequency pulses and a computer to produce detailed pictures of organs, soft tissues, bone and virtually all other internal body structures.

As opposed to the positioning of a person for the vast majority of other common and specialty MRI exams performed at Diagnostic Imaging Services, a woman is positioned face down on the exam table with her arms at her sides. She lays on top of an instrument called a breast coil. This is the piece of equipment that will allow us to obtain the images. Her breasts will hang freely through two openings in the coil. Every effort is made by our clinic staff to make her comfortable with pillows, blankets and pads.

There is no radiation involved with breast MRI.

BRCA1 and BRCA2 have very different needs

According the research authors, “Women with mutations in BRCA1 or BRCA2 have very different needs for surveillance for breast disease than do women with no mutations in these genes. This is particularly true for healthy young women with mutations.”

As with any advanced imaging recommendations, cost can be a factor in determining whether a breast MRI for screening will be covered by health insurance. Medical providers will need to offer substantial evidence and rationale, i.e. presence of the BRCA gene and/or family history of the disease, in order to have the possibility of the screening to be authorized for coverage (subject to any insurance deductible that may be present and unfulfilled.)

Mammograms continue to be the standard of care for breast cancer screening. However, for younger women at “significantly elevated risk” which include the gene mutation, research strongly supports a bi-annual (two times per year) screening with breast MRI.

Click here to learn more about breast MRI performed at Diagnostic Imaging Services. And of course, speak with your medical provider about what may be best for you.