MRI Machine Useful in Early Detection of Breast Cancer

By: Meredith TerHaar Email
By: Meredith TerHaar Email

Panama City - Breast cancer research continues to result in new ways to detect and treat the disease. MRI's have be done on other parts of the body for decades, but using them to find breast cancer has recently become a powerful tool in early detection.

"What a shock and a surprise," said Jean Fernandez. After working as the office manager at Bay Radiology Women's Imaging Center for 23 years, Fernandez was diagnosed with breast cancer herself in 2006. "At that time Bay County did not have the dedicated breast MRI that we have at Bay Radiology now," said Fernandez. Once the breast MRI machine arrived Fernandez had an one done to make sure the cancer hadn't spread to her other breast, thankfully, it hadn't.

Doctors call an MRI the third line of defense in breast cancer detection. A patient starts with a mammogram, if it looks suspicious they will have an ultrasound, and if a clearer image is necessary an MRI will be done. "The MRI is much more sensitive for developing and determining if something is growing. It can show increased blood flow as well as show whether things are fatty or water or solid," said Dr. James Strohmenger.

Dr. Strohmenger says the MRI is particularly good for younger patients who have extremely dense breast tissue. Dr. Strohmenger uses the case of a 39-year-old woman as an example. In her case the MRI found a malignant tumor that was not visible on a mammogram or an ultrasound. "It saves lives in that respect," he said.

Not only will an MRI catch the disease sooner, it can also reveal the extent of the cancer. "The MRI is very good at determining whether there is disease in another quadrant of the same breast. If there is than that alters the way the surgeons are going to approach it. It may determine whether or not the patient is able to have a lumpectomy with local radiation or chemotherapy or whether they need a mastectomy," said Dr. Strohmenger.

Some women wonder if it's wise to have a breast MRI done as a baseline. Dr. Strohmenger says only if it's warranted, like if a woman with dense breasts has the BRACA gene or breast cancer in her family.

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