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Health Spotlight: cancer screening for dense breast tissue

(WISH) — Mammograms are the gold standard for breast cancer screening, and experts are working to make the scans better.

Last year in the United States, 40,000 women died from breast cancer despite having access to mammography. It’s an important tool for catching cancer, but, for women with dense breast tissue, researchers say there may be a better way.

For decades, a mammogram has been a once-a-year potentially lifesaving screening for women older than 40. But, the imaging has its drawbacks.

Dr. Margarita Zuley of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Magee-Womens Hospital said, “The tissues are overlapping. They’re superimposed. So, it’s sort of like trying to read a book through the cover without ever opening the book and look at each page.”

For women with dense breast tissue, screening is even trickier. Women with dense breasts have less fatty tissue.

Researchers are now looking at the benefit of using an abbreviated MRI. Abbreviated MRI — also known as AB-MR or fast MRI — refers to shortening of a standard breast MRI protocol.

The doctor said, “An MRI uses an injected contrast called gadolinium, which goes where blood flow goes, and, so, it lets us see the function of the breast. The blood flows through cancers differently than it does through normal tissue. It goes, there’s more blood flow to it, and, and it goes through at a faster rate.”

A recent study found women with dense breasts who had an average risk of breast cancer benefited from the abbreviated MRI screening. The MRI detected 2-1/2 times as many breast cancers as the next best thing, 3D mammography.

Zuley says doctors may begin to look more at patients’ personal histories and cancer risks when determining which option may be best. “I think we’re moving away from the anatomic era of one-size-fits-all in breast screening toward a more personalized approach.”

The abbreviated MRI breast screening takes about 10 minutes as compared to traditional mammography which takes about five minutes. But, patients will need time to have the contrasting agent administered.

Most private insurance plans that cover mammography also pay for MIR screening if a woman is considered to be high-risk.

This story was created from a script aired on WISH-TV. Health Spotlight is presented by Community Health Network.