Breast MRI is already known for its greater sensitivity over mammography, and there is a growing conversation within the industry over the potential benefits of the abbreviated breast MRI – it takes less time, it acquires fewer images, it costs less, and it provides equivalent diagnostic results.
Despite these benefits, however, widespread implementation has been stymied for a variety of reasons. In a study published on May 12 in the Journal of Breast Imaging, a team led by Laura Heacock, M.D., professor of breast imaging at NYU Langone Health, outlined the benefits and challenges of using abbreviated MRI, as well as the strategies practices and imaging centers can use to more easily integrate it into the services they provide to patients.
Diagnostic Imaging spoke with Heacock about the study findings.
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Diagnostic Imaging: What are the situations where abbreviated MRI would be best suited, and what kind of benefits does it provide for the radiologist and the patient?
Heacock: It’s clear, at this point, that abbreviated breast MRI can be useful in high-risk screening. I think it’s going to open up screening for people at intermediate lifetime risk of breast cancer. So, to be specific, high lifetime risk of breast cancer, we define as greater than 20-percent lifetime risk of breast cancer, and intermediate risk, we define as between 15-percent and 20-percent lifetime risk of breast cancer.
At this point, breast MRI screening is recommended for people who are at high lifetime risk of breast cancer. These patients are usually BRCA-mutation positive or have other high-risk genetic mutations – there’s a well-defined list of reasons for why women may fall into this category. We also know that we’re not screening as many of these patients with MRI as we would like. There’s various reasons why that might be happening. Breast MRI can be expensive, and not every woman lives near a breast MRI. Not enough women may realize that they are a candidate for breast MRI screening. And, importantly, a routine breast MRI can be a long and difficult examination for a patient to tolerate.
That’s really where we think abbreviated MRI could help. If a woman knows she’s going in for a quick 10-minute examination, that’s much easier for most women to tolerate than a longer one. The MRI sequences we use in a traditional breast MRI all have a specific purpose, and women undergo breast MRIs for multiple reasons. But, in terms of screening for breast cancer, we may not need the full 30-to-40 minute exam just to find out if you have a suspicious finding. Abbreviated breast MRI for breast cancer screening can be 10 minutes or less. And, to clarify, when I say 10 minutes, I’m talking about total exam time – with abbreviated MRI that means the time the patient is on the table.
Diagnostic Imaging: How does abbreviated MRI compared to traditional MRI for the radiologist?