One in 8 women will develop breast cancer over her lifetime. The good news is that improvements in treatment and early detection mean millions of women survive breast cancer today. In fact, the five-year survival rate is 97% when detected early.
The key to early detection is to follow screening guidelines, which for most women means getting an annual mammogram beginning at age 40, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). In addition, the ACS recommends that certain women who are at high risk for developing breast cancer undergo a more sensitive screening test – magnetic resonance imaging, or breast MRI.
Holland Hospital now offers breast MRI on its state-of-the-art 3T MRI unit. “Lakeshore area women are fortunate to have this sophisticated imaging equipment available at Holland Hospital,” notes radiologist Susan Ervine, MD, of Advanced Radiology Services. “Our patients can conveniently have their breast MRI and follow-up care done right here in our community.”
As medical director of Holland Hospital’s Breast and Bone Health Services, Dr. Ervine is an active proponent of breast health. Here she answers your questions about breast MRI:
What is breast MRI?
Rather than X-rays used in mammography, MRI uses a magnetic field to produce very detailed cross-sectional and three-dimensional images. In addition to showing detailed characteristics such as the size and shape of a breast lesion, MRI can show increased or abnormal blood flow in the breast – which can be a sign of early cancer – and provide clearer images of dense breast tissue.
Does breast MRI replace mammography?
Breast MRI is an important supplemental tool in breast imaging, not a replacement for mammography or ultrasound. Although it is more sensitive in detecting cancers than mammograms, it is not currently recommended for breast cancer screening in women of average risk. One potential drawback of any screening test is the possibility of a false positive result (a positive finding that turns out not to represent cancer).
Mammography remains the mainstay for breast cancer screening. The impact of mammography on the reduction in breast cancer mortality is well-established. All women should continue to follow the ACS’s recommendation for yearly mammograms beginning at age 40 (or earlier; see next question).
Who should get a breast MRI?
The ACS recommends that women at high risk for breast cancer get tested with yearly MRIs and mammograms beginning at age 30. Patients are considered high risk if they have a 20% or greater lifetime risk based on such factors as a strong family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer, a genetic mutation for breast cancer, and, in some cases, a prior diagnosis of breast or ovarian cancer. Physicians or genetic counselors can help calculate your risk by using a nationally accepted risk-assessment model.
In women who have been recently diagnosed with breast cancer, breast MRI is used to determine if the cancer involves more than one area of the same breast, or the opposite breast. This information can help the patient and her doctors make more informed decisions regarding treatment of the cancer. It is also used to evaluate the effect of chemotherapy, and to check breast implants for leakage. In some cases, breast MRI can be used to further evaluate inconclusive mammographic and sonographic findings.
What happens during a breast MRI?
During a breast MRI, the patient lies still on her stomach and her breasts are positioned through two holes in the exam table. The exam may include injection of a contrast agent into the patient’s arm to further enhance the images. The patient is moved in and out of the MRI machine as it creates hundreds of images that are processed on a computer and interpreted by a radiologist. The procedure typically takes about 45 minutes.
If your MRI or other screening test reveals a suspicious area on your breast, your doctor may request a biopsy to make an accurate diagnosis. For this reason, the ACS recommends that breast MRI be performed at facilities that have the capability to follow up with MRI-guided breast biopsy. With its new, dedicated breast MRI technology, Holland Hospital offers the advanced equipment necessary to perform these procedures as well as experts skilled in MRI-guided biopsy.
For more information
Breast MRIs are typically scheduled upon referral from your doctor. For more information, or to schedule a digital mammogram at any Holland Hospital location, call Breast and Bone Health Services at (616) 355-3865 or visit hollandhospital.org.
Source: American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org.