MRI scans can help women with cancer risk

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 August, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 August, 2004, 12:00am

Women at high risk of breast cancer could benefit from MRI scans, experts say, following an international study that found the scans are better at detecting small tumours than the more commonly used mammography.

But the costlier magnetic resonance imaging scans can also lead to unnecessary biopsies - removal of tissue for testing - and anxiety.

'For very dense breasts, mammograms may not detect some subtle cancers,' said Winnie Chu Chiu-wing, associate professor at the Chinese University's Department of Diagnostic Radiology and Organ Imaging.

'MRI is not be affected by the density of the breasts. It is possible there is an advantage in Chinese women for MRI screening of the breasts, especially as they have very dense breast tissues.'

But because MRIs were non-specific, they could lead to unnecessary biopsies and anxiety, she said, adding that the Hospital Authority was unlikely to call for mass screening of women because of the high cost of the scans.

New research released last month suggests MRI scans find nearly twice as many tumours as X-ray-based mammograms in women at high risk of breast cancer.

According to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine, 51 of 1,909 Dutch women studied over three years were found to have breast cancer. Of these, 32 were identified using MRI, including 22 that had not been visible on mammograms.

Clinical oncology specialist Victor Hsue said it had been known MRIs were good for detecting small breast tumours. But until MRIs could overcome technical hurdles, mammograms would still be the 'gold standard'.