Breast MRI

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One alternative to mammography, Breast MRI or contrast enhanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), has shown substantial progress in the detection of breast cancer.


In this method, the breast is scanned in an MRI device before and after the intravascular injection of a contrast agent (Gadolinium DTPA). The pre-contrast images are "subtracted" from the post-contrast images, and any areas that have increased blood flow are seen as bright spots on a dark background. Since breast cancers generally have an increased blood supply, the contrast agent causes these lesions to "light up" on the images.

Comparison to other technologies

The available literature suggests that the sensitivity of contrast-enhanced breast MRI in detection of cancer is considerably higher than that of either radiographic mammography or ultrasound and is generally reported to be in excess of 95% (though not all reported studies have been as encouraging).

The specificity (the confidence that a lesion is cancerous and not a false positive) is only fair, thus a positive finding by MRI should not be interpreted as a definitive diagnosis.

The reports of 4,271 breast MRIs from eight large scale clinical trials were reviewed recently by CD Lehman. Overall the sensitivity ranged from 71% to 100% in these reports, however the call-back rates were low at 10% and the risk of having a benign biopsy was reported at...
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