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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
Boston Globe Health and Science staff:
Karen Weintraub, Deputy Health and Science Editor, and Gideon Gil, Health and Science Editor.
Short White Coat blogger Ishani Ganguli
Short White Coat blogger Jennifer Srygley
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Answers to questions about scans for breast cancer
The American Cancer Society yesterday recommended for the first time that certain women get annual magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans for breast cancer, even though they have no signs of the disease.
The guidelines are intended for women at unusually high risk of cancer, but it left many women wondering whether they need one of these high-tech scans. Below, Globe reporter Scott Allen answers some basic questions about screening for breast cancer, the second deadliest cancer for women.
Q. What is an MRI and what makes it preferable to a mammogram?
The Cancer Society also calls for annual MRIs for women who suffer from several rare disorders as well as women who were treated with radiation to the chest -- usually for Hodgkin's Disease -- between the ages of 10 and 30. More details about the guidelines can be found on the Cancer Society's web site.
Finally, women who have been recently diagnosed with breast cancer should immediately get an MRI scan of the other breast to be sure there are no other tumors, according to a separate study in the New England Journal of Medicine this week.
And the results can be surprising:
For example, a 35-year-old woman whose mother had breast cancer at 51 and whose maternal aunt was diagnosed with the disease at 60 faces only a 13 percent lifetime risk of breast cancer, which is not high considering that 12.7 percent of all women will develop breast cancer at some point in their lives.
By comparison, a 35-year-old woman whose paternal aunt developed both breast and ovarian cancer by age 49 and whose paternal grandmother had breast cancer at 35 faces a lifetime cancer risk of 23 percent. Based on the Cancer Society guidelines, she should get an annual MRI in addition to a mammogram.
The National Cancer Institute has developed a risk calculator . However, Cancer Society officials say women should contact their doctors to discuss the results.