Treatments

MRI Brings Little Value Before Breast Cancer Surgery

For women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer, getting an MRI before surgery increases the odds an operation will be more extensive without any proven survival benefit over less invasive approaches, argues an analysis just published online by CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians from the American Cancer Society.

MRI of cancerous breast.

hide captionMRI of cancerous breast.

Mitchell D. Schnall via National Cancer Institute

Women who get a pre-operative MRI are more likely to get a mastectomy instead of breast-preserving treatment (lumpectomy and radiation therapy) that has equal or better long-term success. As a result, says Daniel Hayes, a breast cancer specialist at the University of Michigan who co-wrote the analysis, "MRI has led to worse outcomes for patients rather than better ones."

MRI is better at picking up some things than mammography, Hayes concedes, but the expensive imaging tool "is probably finding cancers that radiation gets rid of anyway." For the typical woman, his advice: don't bother.

Hayes cites MRI being used to stage cancers for uncomplicated cases just before surgery as another example of nifty technology being adopted before it has been proved superior to tried and true methods.

Just to be clear, Hayes thinks MRI has its place as a screening tool for women at high risk of breast cancer, something the American Cancer Society now recommends.

Bonus Bucks: We make it a habit to check the funding sources of researchers whose work we write about. Hayes cited support from a new one on us: Fashion Footwear Charitable Foundation of New York/QVC Presents Shoes on Sale. Hayes says over the last decade the group has given him about $2 million, raised from the sale of donated shoes.

As for who's not giving him money, Hayes told us, "I don't have any funding from any companies that make MRIs, nor am I likely to now."

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