Women at high risk for breast cancer could benefit from getting a breast MRI in addition to their yearly screening mammogram. A recent study published in the journal Radiology showed that women who are at a higher risk for breast cancer can reduce their risk of dying of the disease by combining a breast MRI with their routine mammogram.
Researchers came to this conclusion after looking at the effectiveness and costs of screening a hypothetical group of young women who were at high risk of breast cancer due to a familial BRCA1 mutation. BRCA1 mutations are gene defects that dramatically increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. Young women who have these mutations develop breast cancer at a younger age – often before menopause. They found that using a breast MRI in combination with a screening mammogram was better at picking up early breast cancers in these women and could reduce mortality from breast cancer for women at high risk.
The only problem with using a combination of MRI and mammography is that breast MRIs yield a high rate of false-positive results – meaning it looks like a woman has breast cancer when she actually doesn’t. This can cause anxiety when further tests are needed to rule out a malignancy. On the other hand, adding a breast MRI could also save lives in women who are at high risk for the disease.
Why is a screening mammogram, by itself, not as good as the combination of the two procedures? Women who are at high risk for breast cancer often have dense breasts which make the mammogram harder to read and increase the risk of missing an early breast cancer. A breast MRI is more likely to pick up breast cancers in women with dense breasts.
The bottom line? If you’re at high risk for breast cancer because of family history, talk to your doctor about getting a breast MRI in addition to your screening mammogram. Adding this additional study could make it easier to find small breast cancer early – when it’s still curable. Getting a breast MRI with mammography could offer additional peace of mind.