University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center
Last Modified: November 1, 2001
For Immediate Release, October 23, 1997
(Philadelphia, PA)--Researchers at The University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center are leading an international, multi-site study on the performance characteristics of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) in detecting and diagnosing lesions in approximately 3,000 patients with suspicious mammograms. The study will also examine the extent of cancer growth within affected breasts and will investigate the feasibility of using MRI to assess patients who carry a genetic risk of inheriting breast cancer.
Approximately $5 million has been provided by the National Cancer Institute in support of this study, which marks the largest grant given to date for breast MRI research
Physicians at Penn have long been at the forefront of MR and other imaging research. "This study should prove that MRI is by far the best diagnostic tool for detecting breast cancer," says principal investigator Mitchell Schnall, MD, PhD, who serves as Chief of the MRI Section at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. "Breast MRI has the capability of finding small cancerous lesions often missed by regular mammograms and routine self examinations, thereby increasing a patient's chance for survival."
Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed malignancy in the United States and ranks as the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women. Most missed cancers, however, occur in patients with dense breast tissue. Compared to mammography, breast MRI provides higher soft tissue contrast, which allows for more accurate lesion detection and better image enhancement.
MRI is not routinely used in clinical practice because of its expense, but its use for catching cancer at its earliest stage may ultimately prove cost-effective. Surgical biopsies could be avoided if breast MRI can show that a lesion is definitely benign. Separate studies have already demonstrated the potential for breast MRI to distinguish benign from malignant breast lesions and to detect clinically mysterious cancer.
Another added advantage for using breast MRI is its potential for determining how far the cancer has spread within the breast. "Knowing the extent of cancer within a breast would impact a patient's decision on the type of breast conservation therapy chosen--and that would mean the difference between choosing a mastectomy and a lumpectomy," Schnall explains. "We hope to confirm the results of smaller populated studies, which have proven that breast MRI is extremely effective in image enhancement and very specific in small lesion detection," he concluded.
The 14 clinical sites involved in the four-year study include experts in breast imaging, clinical MRI and MR physics and technical industry experts in the use of MRI equipment and contrasting agents.