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Healthwise: Breast Cancer MRI Exams

March 31, 2010

The MRI machine at Martha Jefferson Hospital is no longer only used to screen knees, backs and arms. Radiologist Dr. John Ciambotti says it's now one of the newest and most effective ways to detect breast cancer.

Unlike mammography, a breast MRI does not use radiation. It also allows a radiologist to see much more than they would in a routine mammogram.

"Statistics have shown that when looking for breast cancer, mammography will find about 6 or 8 out of 10 breast cancers. Breast MRI, however, will see about 10 out of 10 breast cancers. So, breast MRI is a much more sensitive test for finding breast cancer than mammography," said Dr. Ciambotti.

Although, Dr. Ciambotti says women shouldn't rush off and cancel their mammography appointment, because these high-tech MRI screenings are not for everyone. He only recommends certain patients schedule a breast MRI.

"Some of the most common indications that we do breast MRI are for patients who have a high risk of getting a breast cancer, or if you have a family history of breast cancer. Also, if you have a genetic deformity such as the "brca" gene which increases your risk of breast cancer," said Dr. Ciambotti.

There are also other factors to think about when it comes to getting a breast MRI. The image is more expensive than a mammogram, and because the patient is enclosed during an MRI, it may be difficult for women who are claustrophobic.

While this new technology may help detect breast cancer and save lives in high risk women, Dr. Ciambotti says the MRI is not an alternative to getting a mammogram. For the best results, he encourages high risk patients to continue getting an annual mammogram.

Martha Jefferson started performing breast MRI exams a few years ago, and radiologists say they see anywhere from 800 to 1,000 patients during an average year.


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