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MRIs Harm More than Help Women with Early Breast Cancer

Monday, August 24, 2009 by: Sherry Baker, Health Sciences Editor
Tags: MRI, health news, Natural News

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(NewsTarget) A new review of breast cancer treatment just published online in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians concludes that the growing use of high tech magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to assess the extent of early breast cancer may be harming instead of helping women with early breast malignancies. The study shows MRIs increase the odds a woman will be subjected to more extensive surgery, i.e. a mastectomy, over conservative approaches such as a simple lumpectomy -- and there is absolutely no evidence that the radical surgical approach does anything to improve the treatment or prognosis of women with early breast cancer.

"Overall, there is growing evidence that MRI does not improve surgical care, and it could be argued that it has a potentially harmful effect," the authors of the study, scientists from the University of Sydney in Australia and the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, concluded.

A number of randomized controlled trials have demonstrated that women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer who are treated with conservative therapy (consisting of a simple local excision and radiotherapy, if indicated) have the same survival rates as women who are subjected to the major surgery and trauma of total breast removal. However, in recent years the medical industry has pushed for MRIs to be used more and more in the preoperative staging of the affected breast in women with newly diagnosed breast cancer. The reason? MRIs supposedly can detect additional areas of cancer that do not show up on conventional imaging such as mammography and the imaging technique helps surgeons plan for breast tissue removal.

But when Dr. Nehmat Houssami of the University of Sydney and Dr. Daniel F. Hayes of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center reviewed all the available data on the use of preoperative MRI scans in women with early stage breast cancer, the researchers found a lot of assumptions on the benefits of MRIs have simply never been validated. For example, it has been assumed that the detection capability of MRIs must improve surgical treatment by improving surgical planning and that could potentially lead to a reduction of more surgery in the future for breast cancer patients. In addition, by guiding surgeons to remove additional disease detected by MRI, the odds of a recurrence of breast cancer have been assumed to be reduced.

However, after reviewing the data, Dr. Houssami and Dr. Hayes concluded that using the MRI approach to local staging of breast cancer changes surgical management from breast conservation to more radical surgery without evidence of improvement in surgical outcomes or an improved long-term prognosis. In a statement to the media, the researchers called for well-designed, randomized controlled trials to find out any potential benefit of MRIs versus the harm they could be causing, including harm to the quality of life of women who may be having unnecessary radical mastectomies.

"We acknowledge that logistics and costs of conducting such large-scale, multicenter trials are enormous. If the technology is truly as beneficial as its proponents claim, then these costs are worth it. If it is not, then they are outweighed by the costs of adopting expensive technology and associated intervention without evidence of clinical benefit," they concluded.

Reference:"Review of Preoperative Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) in Breast Cancer," Nehmat Houssami, MBBS, PhD, and Daniel F. Hayes, MD, CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, published 0nline: August 13, 2009 (doi:10.3322/caac.20028); Print Issue Date: September/October 2009.


About the author

Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA's "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine's "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic's "Men's Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.
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