Study: MRI a helpful tool for early breast cancer detection, treatment planning

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Breast MRI is a useful tool in the detection of microscopic lesions within the breast, according to a study presented Monday at the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology's annual meeting in Denver. MRI seems to be able to detect disease that is not found in traditional mammograms, with 10 percent of women participating in the study showing additional disease beyond what was found in the breast x-ray, the study said.
   
Usually women with breast cancer undergo a lumpectomy and a course of external beam radiation to the entire breast to any remaining cancer. However, radiation oncologists are now studying accelerated partial breast irradiation, which can reduce the radiation course period for certain women with early-stage breast cancer.
   
In completing the study, doctors used both standard mammography and also a breast MRI for each patient in an effort to define the tumor, and disease in other portions of the breast. Of the 51 patients reported, almost 10 percent had additional cancer identified on the MRI that was not found in the mammogram. This finding indicates that women with additional cancer would be more safely treated with wider removal of breast tissue followed by whole breast radiation therapy, or mastectomy in cases of biopsy-proven multicentric disease, according to the study.
   
"At this point, we feel that partial breast irradiation is best reserved for women with unifocal carcinoma, excised with tumor-free margins, without evidence of multifocal or multicentric disease," said Kathleen Horst, MD, lead author of the study and a radiation oncologist at the Stanford Cancer Center. She added, "Breast MRI may help radiation oncologists identify the most suitable candidates for this accelerated treatment to minimize the chance that a woman's cancer will return near the original tumor or elsewhere in the breast."