MRI Helps Spot Breast Cancer in High-Risk Women

The expensive tool is cost-effective for women carrying specific genes, study finds

TUESDAY, May 23, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- MRI screening for women who carry the BRCA1 and BRCA2 breast cancer susceptibility gene mutations may be cost-effective, a new study shows.

Women with these gene mutations have a 45 percent to 65 percent lifetime risk of developing breast cancer, the study noted. Many of these women undergo screening to detect breast cancer in the early stages.

Contrast-enhanced MRI has been shown to detect cancer earlier than mammography in high-risk women, but it also increases the rate of false-positive tests and has not been shown to reduce the breast cancer death rate. In addition, MRI screening for breast cancer is at least 10 times more costly than mammography screening.

In this study, researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine in California used computer modeling to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of MRI screening for breast cancer.

"At a cost-effectiveness threshold of $100,000 per quality-adjusted life-year gained, adding annual MRI from ages 35 to 54 years is cost-effective among all BRCA1 mutation carriers and among BRCA2 mutation carriers for whom mammography is insensitive," the study authors wrote.

The findings appear in the May 24 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"Magnetic resonance imaging has a larger role in screening BRCA1 mutation carriers because they are at greater risk for developing breast cancer, and their cancers are more aggressive than those that develop in BRCA2 mutation carriers," the researchers explained.

Screening with MRI becomes more cost-effective as breast cancer risk increases; mammography performance worsens; greater quality of life gains are offered by MRI; and the cost of MRI decreases, the authors said.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about breast cancer screening.

SOURCE: JAMA, news release, May 23, 2006
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