February 10, 2017 — A new method for screening women with dense breast tissue may potentially save thousands of lives by detecting breast cancer four to six years earlier than mammographic technology.
Due to its cost, breast imaging using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is recommended only for women at high risk for cancer — an estimated 2 percent of women. Mammograms are the current standard for the rest of the population.
The new Rapid Breast MRI protocol — derived from original research by David A. Strahle, M.D., chairman of Regional Medical Imaging in Flint, Mich. — cuts scan time by 70 percent to only 7 minutes, significantly reducing costs and enabling its use for screening women with dense breasts. In conjunction with a local HMO, Strahle found that early detection would have major costs savings for both women and insurance companies when considering the 10 categories of expense dealing with breast cancer.
Mammographic technology for women with dense breast tissue is simply not as effective as MRI in spotting cancer, Strahle noted. In addition, unlike tomosynthesis (3-D mammography) or mammograms, MRIs do not use X-ray radiation.
“It’s like trying to see a thunderstorm through clouds without radar,” Strahle said. “MRI sees through the dense tissue, allowing radiologists to spot virtually all suspicious tumors.”
The new MRI protocol allows screening of women on a regular basis who have dense breast tissue. Strahle conducted peer-reviewed research of 671 women over seven years, which was published on Jan. 30, 2017. The research also includes an easier method for radiologists to read the exams, greatly lowering the false positive rate to below that of any other breast screening method.
Although insurance providers do not yet cover Rapid Breast MRI, the exam costs $395 out-of-pocket at RMI, compared with a diagnostic MRI that runs $700 or more. In addition to reducing scan time, screening Rapid Breast MRI can potentially be conducted every other year, instead of yearly as with mammograms. This equates to an annual cost of only $198, less than the average breast screening costs of $252 in mid-Michigan, Strahle said.
Breast cancer continues to be a leading cause of death in women. About one in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetimes, with 85 percent of those cancers occurring in women with no family history, according to breastcancer.org.
The research was published Jan. 30 in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment.
For more information: www.link.springer.com/journal/10549
Strahle, D.A., Pathak, D.R., Sierra, A., Saha, S., et al. "Systematic development of an abbreviated protocol for screening breast magnetic resonance imaging," Breast Cancer Research and Treatment. Published online Jan. 30, 2017. DOI: 10.1007/s10549-017-4112-0