According to an article recently published in the journal Radiology, the use of magnetic resonance (MR) spectroscopy may significantly reduce unnecessary biopsies in patients with abnormalities of the breast.

Women who are at a high risk of developing breast cancer may undergo screening with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to detect early stages of the disease. Suspicious areas may show up on the scans, prompting a biopsy and laboratory examination of the abnormal tissue to determine if breast cancer is present or if there is a non-cancerous condition.

Biopsies are associated with pain, anxiety, potential for infection, time demands for the patient and healthcare system, and increased financial costs. Thus, reducing unnecessary biopsies (biopsies for non-cancerous conditions) would be beneficial.

Researchers from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center recently conducted a trial to evaluate the accuracy of the addition of MR spectroscopy to MRI in distinguishing between cancer and non-cancerous areas that look suspicious on MRI readings.

Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy allows radiologists to look at the chemical composition of a tumor to determine whether it is cancerous or benign. This study included 56 patents with abnormal results on MRI. The patents then underwent MR spectroscopy, which added just 10 minutes of additional time. The suspicious area of the breast was then removed and evaluated in a laboratory to determine if it was cancer. Imaging results were compared to biopsy results.

  • All cancers were identified with MR spectroscopy.
  • 88% of suspicious areas were correctly distinguished as cancer or non-cancerous by MR spectroscopy.
  • 58% of unnecessary biopsies would have been eliminated based on results of MR spectroscopy. As well, all cancers would have been found.

The researchers concluded that women at a high risk of developing breast cancer who undergo MRI for screening may benefit from the addition of MR spectroscopy as the rate of unnecessary biopsies would be significantly reduced. High-risk patients may wish to discuss their individual risks and benefits of MR spectroscopy with their physician.

Reference: Bartella L, Morris E, Dershaw D, et al. Proton MR Spectroscopy with Choline Peak as Malignancy Marker Improves Positive Predictive Value for Breast Cancer Diagnosis: Preliminary Study. Radiology. 2006;239:686-692.

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