‘Fast’ MRI detects breast cancers that 3-D mammograms may miss

More than 400 asymptomatic women with dense breasts underwent abbreviated magnetic resonance imaging (also called “fast MR” or AB-MR) at Penn Medicine between 2016 and 2019. In a retrospective study of these patients, all of whom had a negative 3-D mammogram within the previous 11 months, researchers in the Perelman School of Medicine found that abbreviated MRI detected roughly 27 cancers per 1,000 women screened. By comparison, 3-D mammography detects about four to five cancers in 1,000 women screened, on average. The findings were published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Glowing MRI machine

“Mammogram is the best tool we have to detect breast cancer, but it’s not perfect. In women with fatty tissue, we can very easily detect cancer. But in women with very dense breasts, the sensitivity can be low as 30%,” says Susan Weinstein, an associate professor of radiology at Penn. “We need to start thinking about how to better screen women with dense breasts, and AB-MR is an effective and feasible option.”

After a patient is notified about her breast density, the most common supplemental screening exam is ultrasound, which is readily available at most breast centers, according to Weinstein. However, ultrasound has limitations, and multiple studies have demonstrated a significantly higher cancer detection rate with contrast-enhanced MRI compared to an ultrasound screening.

The challenge is that breast MRI is a limited and expensive resource. It can require up to 16 sets of imaging, which can take up to 40 minutes to complete. Abbreviated MRI, by contrast, is a newer, shortened version of the screening. It requires only three sequences on average, making it a more accessible option for the 40% of women in the U.S. with dense breasts.

This story is by Lauren Ingeno. Read more at Penn Medicine News.