Study: MRI twice as effective as mammogram

November 17, 2010 3:57:15 AM PST
A new study found that MRIs can be more than twice as effective at detecting breast cancer in high-risk women.

Eleanor Torjusen, 57, is going to have a double mastectomy next month.

But instead of feeling self pity, she considers herself very fortunate because an MRI in September found a miniscule dot in her left breast, which turned out to be cancer.

"It saved my life," she said. "If I didn't have an MRI and waited for a mammogram, it would have really advanced. I wouldn't be this lucky."

While mammograms remain on the front line in the fight against breast cancer, there is a new push for women who are high risk to get yearly MRIs as well.

In a recent study, researchers followed more than 2,000 high risk women and found MRIs made a huge difference in early detection.

"In this study, only 25 percent of breast cancers were detected with mammograms, where 67 percent of breast cancers were detected with MRIs," said Dr. Kristen Byrne, the Chief of Breast Imaging at Lenox Hospital.

Doctors hope someday MRIs might even spare high-risk patients from removing their healthy breasts preemptively.

However, yearly MRIs are not recommended for all women, especially for women with only an average risk of breast cancer.

MRIs are so sensitive that doctors say they can lead to false positives and unnecessary biopsies.

There is also the cost factor.

MRIs cost thousands of dollars and are not always covered by insurance.

For Eleanor, it was worth every penny.

"I'm going to end up with a whole new me," she said. "Very healthy with lots of years ahead."

The results in the study were so compelling that researchers are now considering whether high-risk women should start having MRIs twice a year.