MRI in the early detection of breast cancer in women with high genetic risk

Giovanna Trecate, Daniele Vergnaghi, Siranuosh Manoukian, Silvana Bergonzi, Gianfranco Scaperrotta, Monica Marchesini, Claudio Ferranti, Bernard Peissel, Gianbattista Spatti, Silvia Bohm, Alberto Conti, Claudia Costa, Manila Sporeni, Franca Podo, Renato Musumeci

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Aims and background: Women with BRCA1 or BRCA2 germline mutations have an elevated risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer. Because of the early onset of the disease, screening of this group of women should start at an earlier age than in the general population. The association of breast magnetic resonance imaging (BMRI) and ultrasonography (US) with mammography (MX) and clinical breast examination (CBE) in the regular surveillance of these individuals has been proposed and seems to improve the early detection of breast cancer. Methods: Within a multicenter study started by the Istituto Superiore di Sanità (Rome), at the Istituto Nazionale Tumori of Milan (INT) we enrolled 116 women at high genetic risk for breast cancer; they were either BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation carriers or had a strong family history of breast cancer. They underwent CBE, MX, US and BMRI once a year. Results: Between June 2000 and April 2005, at INT 12 cancers were detected among the 116 screened individuals (10%). In this subgroup, 1 patient refused BMRI and in 2 cases US was not performed. With BMRI we found 11 cancers and 6 of them were detectable only by this technique. In these 6 cases, the size of the disease was less than 1 cm and MX was false negative due to irregularly nodular parenchyma in 4 cases and scar tissue or prosthesis in the other 2. US was not performed in 2 cases and was false negative in 4 cases. Three false positive results were found with BMRI: 1 case was considered suspect but related to hormonal influences; 1 case with the same pattern was sent for second-look US, which gave a negative result and BMRI review after 6 months showed normalization of the parenchyma; in the third case histology revealed the presence of adenosis. No false positive results were registered for MX. Conclusions: The aim of secondary prevention is the detection of cancer at its earliest stage. BMRI screening in women with BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations or at high familiar risk appears to be highly sensitive and may detect mammographically occult disease. The accuracy of MR imaging is higher than that of conventional imaging but the technique is flawed by a lower specificity. In order to avoid unnecessary biopsies we believe that the combination of BMRI and conventional imaging can be very useful in screening women with a high genetic risk of breast cancer, especially with second-look evaluation by means of US when BMRI yields the only positive diagnostic result. Second-look US has been demonstrated to be of critical importance both in recognizing false positive BMRI results and in guiding biopsies, when necessary.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)517-523
Number of pages7
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2006


  • BRCA1 AND BRCA2 genes
  • Breast cancer
  • High genetic risk
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Prevention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research


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