The Debate Over Breast Scans

Wednesday, December 1, 2010 - 10:40am

Medical community is debating need for yearly MRIs for breast cancer survivors.

Should women who've had breast cancer get annual screenings with an MRI?

It's a hot-button issue in the medical community and radiologists meeting recently in Chicago addressed the topic.

MRIs cost ten times more than a mammogram, but for women with the highest lifetime risk of breast cancer, the American Cancer Society says yearly MRIs can save lives.

A new study presented at the Radiological Society of North America suggests that hundreds of thousands of other women may also benefit from a yearly MRI: Survivors of breast cancer.

"The MRI is a useful tool overall in these women with a treated history of breast cancer," says The University of Washington Medical Center's Dr. Wendy De Martini. "It's not clear at this time if all women should be getting a breast MRI. We certainly would like to do some future work to see who would best benefit."

Dr. De Martini says there are some early indications about who might benefit the most.

"Young women with an invasive cancer originally may be better candidates than someone, for instance, who is older and may just have the earliest type of cancer diagnosed," she says.

That leaves patients with another question: Will the insurance company pay?

Not always, according to doctors.

The cost is substantial, between $1,000 and $2,000.

Whatever the price, experts say patients getting an MRI should make sure the person doing it and reading it is specifically trained.

"We do want women to get M-R-I though at site where they can get a very good breast M-R-I. So you do want to go someplace where you have a qualified personnel, ideally people specialized in reading breast M-R-I examinations," says Dr. De Martini.

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