Page last updated at 07:58 GMT, Friday, 10 August 2007 08:58 UK

MRI scan 'out-performs' mammogram

Breast cancer screening
X-rays are currently used to detect breast cancer

MRI scans are far better at detecting aggressive breast cancers at an early stage than standard mammograms, research suggests.

A Lancet study found that X-ray based screening detects only 56% of the early signs of a form of the disease.

But the University of Bonn team found MRI, more typically used for brain scans, picked up 92% of lesions.

However, MRI scans are rarely used in breast clinics, and then usually only as a back-up to conventional scans.

MRI should thus no longer be regarded as an adjunct to mammography but as a distinct method to detect breast cancer in its earliest stage
Dr Carla Boetes and Dr Ritse Mann

The researchers are calling for greater use to be made of MRI in the detection of breast cancer.

The earlier an aggressive breast cancer can be detected, the better the chances of successful treatment.

The study, of more than 7,300 women, focused on a very early-stage form of breast cancer called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), which affects the milk ducts in the breast.

The researchers found that MRI scans were much more effective at spotting the disease.

The difference was even more marked for particularly aggressive cases: MRI picked up 98%, while standard mammograms spotted just 52%.

MRI was also no more likely to throw up false positive results.

Conclusions difficult

Writing in The Lancet, Dr Carla Boetes and Dr Ritse Mann, from Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre in the Netherlands, called for more research to assess the merits of using MRI scans to detect breast cancer.

They wrote: "MRI should thus no longer be regarded as an adjunct to mammography but as a distinct method to detect breast cancer in its earliest stage."

However, Dr Emma Pennery, a nurse consultant at the charity Breast Cancer Care, said it was unclear who would benefit as the study included a mixed population of women.

This included women who were attending routine breast screening, some who were being followed up after breast cancer treatment or others who had a significant family history of the disease.

Dr Pennery said: "Further research is needed to clarify what implications this has on the way DCIS is currently diagnosed, and when it is most appropriate and efficient to use MRIs."

Julietta Patnick, director of the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes, also stressed that it was difficult to draw firm conclusions from the German study.



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