Abbreviated Breast MRI exam increases early cancer detection

Side-by-side comparison of a mammogram and an MRI

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Northwest Hospital, along with Via Radiology, is now offering Abbreviated Breast MRI (AB-MR), a new screening exam that improves detection of cancer in women with dense breast tissue. AB-MR takes less than 10 minutes and is as accurate as the longer, more expensive breast MRI that has been used for more than 20 years.

Nearly 50% of women who have mammograms have dense breast tissue. Breast tissue is made up of milk glands, milk ducts, supportive tissue (dense breast tissue), and fatty tissue (non-dense breast tissue). Women with dense breasts have more dense tissue than fatty tissue. The radiologist who looks at your mammogram determines whether you have dense breasts.

A mammogram alone for women with dense breast tissue may not diagnosis early stages of cancer. For these women, an MRI is the most accurate test for early detection. However, because of its high cost, insurers have limited approval for an MRI only to women at high risk for breast cancer. We now have an option for women with dense breast tissue who are at average-to-moderate risk for cancer: theAB-MR exam. This lower cost exam will provide women the option of additional screening.

“Too many women continue to die of breast cancer,” says Dr. Craig Hanson, medical director of the Seattle Breast Center at Northwest Hospital. “Early detection through screening exams is an important part of this fight, but one type of screening does not fit all types of women. We need to focus on providing the latest, best imaging technology available, at a reasonable cost, based on each woman’s individual risk.”

According to Hanson, the biggest challenge is in the 50% of women with dense breasts for whom mammograms may not be enough. “For these women we need to make a screening MRI as affordable as possible,” he says.

Hanson recommends that, along with an annual mammogram, women who are younger than 55 with dense breasts have an AB-MR every two years, and women 55 and older have one every three years. The recommendation for women at moderate risk, including those with a history of breast cancer, is for an AB-MR every two years. The Seattle Breast Center includes a free risk assessment with every patient’s mammogram report.

AB-MR is currently offered at Via Radiology – Meridian Pavilion for a cost of $495. Most insurance plans, including Medicare, will not cover this cost unless you are at high risk.

A referral from your primary care provider for an AB-MR exam is preferred, but not required. For more information, call 206-306-1011.

For more information about the Seattle Breast Center at Northwest Hospital, or to make a mammography appointment, call 206-668-1749.

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