New breast-imaging technique less costly, nearly as accurate as MRI

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Molecular breast imaging (MBI), a new breast-imaging technology still in early development, appears to be as accurate as MRI scans and several times cheaper, according to research findings presented June 26 at the Department of Defense "Era of Hope" Breast Cancer Meeting in Baltimore.

"We envision MBI being useful for women who are not served well by mammography, those who have mammographically dense breast tissue and those at increased risk for breast cancer," said study author Carrie Beth Hruska, a research fellow at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. "We have been working on the technology for the last six years. However, there are a lot of technical challenges that have had to be overcome, so it's still in the very early stages for use in patients."

According to HealthDay, mammography is still the standard and most reliable screening test for breast cancer, and is likely to remain so. However, it may be less effective in women who are at high risk for the disease or who have dense breasts, Hruska noted.

MBI is based on an intravenous injection of a radio "tracer" that circulates throughout the body and is preferentially taken up by cells that are more active than normal, such as cancer cells, according to Hruska.

In 48 patients suspected of having breast cancer who underwent both MBI and breast MRI within a 30-day period, both MBI and MRI picked up disease in 47 of the 48 patients. In the final patient, two cancers went undetected by MBI but were picked up by MRI.

Hruska noted that in all, 54 cancers in 32 patients were diagnosed. MRI picked up 53 cancers in 31 patients (a sensitivity of 98 percent) while MBI found 51 cancers in 30 patients (a sensitivity of 94 percent). One cancer was not diagnosed by MRI, MBI, mammography or ultrasound.

"We can then see this tracer with a special gamma camera we call the MBI system," Hruska told HealthDay. "This camera basically detects the gamma rays that are emitted from the tracer and, if there is more tracer, that's where the cancer is located." MBI is not affected by breast density and costs four-to-six times less than an MRI exam in both breasts, Hruska added.