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Use of Breast MRIs Way Up, Studies Find

Posted November 20, 2013

Use of breast MRIs has nearly tripled in recent years, but the women who could benefit the most are not always getting the expensive imaging test, a new study suggests.

The research points ups an important message, said Dr. Shelley Hwang, chief of breast surgery at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C. “More screening is not necessarily better. Smarter screening is better,” said Hwang, author of a commentary accompanying the study. Both were published online Nov. 18 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

The study found many more women at high lifetime risk of developing breast cancer — a group advised to consider MRI — are getting the test than in years past. Those numbers rose from 9 percent in 2005 to 29 percent in 2009.

These results “suggest that breast MRI is being used better,” said lead researcher Karen Wernli, an assistant investigator at the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle.

However, in a separate but related study reported in the same issue, Harvard Medical School researchers found that breast MRIs between 2000 and 2011 jumped 20-fold, then declined and stabilized by 2011. But less than half of women with documented genetic mutations that raise the risk of breast cancer got the highly sensitive tests, they found.

Under guidelines on use of breast MRI, the American Cancer Society and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network advise considering MRI if a woman’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is greater than 20 percent. In the general population, a woman’s lifetime risk is about 12 percent.

Women considered high risk are those known to have the genetic mutations BRCA1 and BRCA2, those who had chest radiation during childhood, or those with a first-degree relative known to have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, Wernli said.

For high-risk women, annual MRIs and mammograms are recommended.

Read more at: MedlinePlus

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