New MRI/Biopsy Technology for Breast Cancer Detection - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

04/13/06

New MRI/Biopsy Technology for Breast Cancer Detection

In the United States, more than 200,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. More than 40,000 will die from the disease. Researchers say one step in battling breast cancer is prevention, including monthly breast exams, mammograms, and now MRIs for patients at high risk for the disease.

The new technology is an MRI that not only looks for any abnormalities in a patient's breast. It can also do a biopsy. Usually patients with questionable mammograms would have to travel hours away to have the biopsy done, but now, they can get their results within hours.

Denise Daly of Richmond Hill believes she is a walking time bomb. She has had calcifications in both her breasts, requiring her to have several mammograms. In 2003, those spots started to change.

"Since spring 2003 until now, I've had six biopsies," she told us.

Although she has no family history of breast cancer, the calcifications put her at high risk for getting the disease. Which is why her doctor sent her to get an MRI.

The machine takes an image of the breast, and sends the pictures to a computer, showing any abnormalities. The images are read by a computer program that can pick out suspicious tissue. The state-of-the-art equipment is so powerful, it can detect cancers as small as three millimeters in size.

"In the past couple years, MRI mammography has been refined with the development of better breast coils, better software, and computer-assisted detection," noted radiologist Dr. Thomas Decker.

He has seen firsthand how the machine is helping his patients. If something is found, you can have the biopsy done the next day. In the past, patients would have to travel to Charleston, Jacksonville, or Atlanta to have the MRI-guided biopsy done. Now they have a machine that can do it right here at home.

"If you found an abnormality and you're at high risk, you'd probably feel very uncomfortable sitting on it and waiting to see if it changed," said Dr. Decker. "Whereas you could immediately biopsy it under MRI guidance."

The MRI is only used for people who are at high risk for breast cancer: with a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer and/or dense breasts. The new technology could literally mean the difference between life and death for patients, something Denise Daly hopes more women will take advantage of.

"Maybe it will save somebody else down the road, save somebody else from having breast cancer," she said. "It gives you peace of mind, it really does." 

Doctors say, even though this machine is top of the line, women should still have mammograms, too, because they can detect some types of breast cancers earlier than MRIs do. Also, check with your insurance company. The cost of the MRI is very high, and most insurance companies may not cover the exam.

Both St. Joseph's/Candler and Memorial Health have the MRI machines.

Reported by: Melanie Ruberti, mruberti@wtoc.com

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