MRI Scans May be Too Sensitive for Early Stage Breast Cancer

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) has trumped X-ray scans for some time now, owing to their being free of radiation. These highly sensitive scans have long been used to screen for breast cancer.

MRIs check for cancer in the breast by distinguishing between scar tissue and tumours. However, experts are now speculating that, in cases of early stage breast cancer, the scan’s sensitivity may be doing more harm than good.

“Magnetic resonance mammography identifies occult disease in the breast that may not be visible on other imaging modalities and this may lead to inappropriate treatment decisions”, writes UC Dublin senior lecturer Malcolm Kell in the British Medical Journal.

The sensitivity of MRI may lead doctors to become overly and even unnecessarily concerned over detailed abnormalities highlighted in the scans. The sophisticated examinations picking up harmless recurrence or extensions of tumours can lead to surgery that does not change the patient’s prognosis.

Mr. Kell, who is also a consultant surgeon, says that the best way to manage early stage breast cancer and to reduce the need for surgery is through yearly monitoring and drug treatment and, where necessary, radiotherapy.

Meg MacArthur, of cancer charity Breakthrough UK, agrees, citing that national guidelines do not routinely recommend the use of MRI to assess early breast cancer patients. “We encourage women to speak to their doctor if they have any concerns about their diagnosis or treatment.”