For some patients, breast MRIs can catch cancer that mammograms cannot

Posted at 10:52 AM, Oct 16, 2018

CINCINNATI -- Ultrasounds and mammograms aren’t the only tools for detecting breast cancer. 

For patients who fall into a “high risk” category, MRI screening can help doctors assess a series of factors, especially in patients who have dense breast tissue.

A mammogram might not catch everything in dense tissue. That’s where a breast MRI comes in. 

MRIs offer a different look at the tissue that can stand out more when compared to a mammogram, Dr. Joseph Benjamin said.

“Sometimes the dense tissue can obscure changes on a mammogram, since dense tissue appears white on a mammogram and sometimes breast cancer can appear white … it can be hidden in the dense tissue,” Benjamin said.

Benjamin said not all patients who qualify for MRIs are getting them because some people might not know they have a high risk of developing breast cancer.

An IV prior to the MRI allows for contrast in images. Breast MRIs rely on that contrast to light up potential trouble spots. The MRI lasts about 30 minutes, compared to the minutes it takes to get an ultrasound and the seconds it takes to get a mammogram.

Breast MRIs can detect precancerous cells, Benjamin said. But just as an MRI can detect things a mammogram cannot, a mammogram can detect things MRIs cannot.

“They're more supplementary than they are one replacing the other,” Benjamin said.

Benjamin also said breast cancer screening should be individualized based on a patient’s personal risk of developing cancer.

“We want to find it as early as we can,” Benjamin said. “We want to find it as small as we can. The better we can screen patients, the more cancers we can find."