Save time, catch cancer with abbreviated breast MRI protocols

Abbreviated MRI protocols are just as effective as full diagnostic protocols at detecting cancers and also save valuable time and resources for both patients and facilities, according to results of a study published online in the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

Increased breast cancer awareness and regular mammography screening have helped improve patient survival rates by as much as 30 percent since the 1990s. But many high-risk patients with a family history of breast cancer require additional imaging, including breast MRI exams.

These exams often have lengthy protocols that tie up resources, personnel and patients for long periods of time. But it doesn’t necessarily need to be that way, said lead author Susan C. Harvey, MD, and her colleagues at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore.

“Typically, MRI is performed with a full or diagnostic protocol with multiple sequences after administration of intravenous contrast material,” they wrote. “Decreasing scanning time with an abbreviated MRI protocol may achieve the same high level of cancer detection while providing greater efficiency, improved patient tolerance of the examination, and substantial resource savings.”

Harvey and her team set out to review the ability of an abbreviated breast MRI protocol for screening high-risk patients to detect cancer and save resources.

To do so, they reviewed the results of high-risk screening breast MRI using both an abbreviated and a full diagnostic protocol within their facility between December 2013 and May 2015 to compare respective performance in cancer detection, scanner utilization, interpretation times and additional imaging.

Their results showed no difference in the number of cancers detected, but the abbreviated protocols led to a reduction in average scan time of almost 19 minutes per case, resulting in a total time savings of 178 hours. Decreases also were seen in interpretation times, with abbreviated protocols averaging 1.5 minutes and the full protocol averaging 6.5 minutes.

“Abbreviated MRI is as effective as full-protocol MRI for demonstration of cancers in the high-risk screening setting,” the authors concluded. “The efficiency and resource savings of an abbreviated protocol would be significant, and would allow for opportunities to provide MRI for additional patients, as well as improved radiologist time management and workflow, with the potential to add real-time MRI interpretation or double reading.”