A study by researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York shows that magnetic resonance imaging can detect small breast cancer tumors in women that can be missed by standard mammograms, ABCNews.com reports. The researchers reviewed medical records of 367 women at high risk for breast cancer and determined that MRI detected cancers not seen in mammograms in one out of every 24 women. For women who had both a personal and family history of breast cancer, MRI detected cancer tumors not seen in mammograms for one out of 12 women.
Treatment outcomes are much better for women who detect breast cancer at the earliest stages. While mammograms use X rays, MRI uses radio waves and magnetic fields, which make the contrast between breast tissues 10 to 100 times greater. "Magnetic resonance imaging assesses blood flow in the breast," said lead researcher Morris. "If there is cancer in the breast, there is increased blood flow and the formation of abnormal vessels. [MRI] can pick up small cancers and invasive cancers at a higher sensitivity than mammography."
In light of the study and other research showing that MRI can be useful in detecting tiny breast cancer tumors, the researchers recommend that women at high risk for breast cancer be given annual mammograms and MRI screening to screen for early signs of the disease.