Using breast MRI to evaluate newly diagnosed breast cancers does not delay treatment

Breast MRI is often used to evaluate newly diagnosed breast cancers, but there is some evidence that suggests this practice can lead to delayed surgical treatment.

To explore that issue more closely, the authors of a recent study in the Journal of the American College of Radiology carried out a retrospective study of 189 patients who were diagnosed and treated for breast cancer at the same facility. Of the 189 patients, 109 had received pretreatment breast MRI and the other 80 had not.

Before they began looking at the data, the authors were skeptical that breast MRI was delaying treatment.

“The time to treatment after the breast cancer diagnosis is made relies on a number of factors in addition to pretreatment breast MRI,” wrote Tim Emory, MD, department of radiology at the University of Minnesota Medical School, Minneapolis, and colleagues. “Depending on the case, this time includes scheduling and completing consultations with not only the surgeon but often a team of professionals including the medical oncologist, plastic surgeon, radiation oncologist, and genetic counselor, in addition to working around the patient's own personal schedule. Notably, if patients divide their care up between multiple institutions, other time-consuming variables including repetitions of the process may be introduced.”

The data revealed that the median time to treatment was 32 days for patients who received pretreatment breast MRI and 34.5 days for patients who did not receive pretreatment breast MRI. In addition, even when a second lesion was discovered during the MRI, leading to an additional biopsy, it “did not indicate any significant delayed surgical treatment.”

“There was no effect of pretreatment breast MRI on the timing of surgical treatment of newly diagnosed breast cancer in our group of patients, with the mean time to treatment in the MRI group in our study being 32 days,” Emory wrote. “This is contrary to prior publications.”

The authors did add that their study had limitations. It was a retrospective analysis, for instance, and the data all came from the same facility.