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Is MRI Over-Used for Breast Cancer, Resulting in MRI Health Risks?

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Dublin, IrelandIn the basket of MRI health risks, it's not one that's routinely talked about. However, a British-based study is suggesting that over-use of MRI to detect breast cancer resulted in a six percent increase in mastectomies. The study, according to the October 21st edition of the Yorkshire Post, focused on breast cancer patients who were being considered for non-surgical treatment.

Most adverse reactions associated with MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) are related to MRI kidney—which is a catch-all phrase having to do with gadolinium contrast agents routinely used in MRI scans. Normally, the chemical is expelled from the body by the kidney. However, in patients with weak kidneys or suffering from kidney disease, the agent is not expunged efficiently. The results are grievous health issues originating from the MRI contrast agent circulating through the body longer than it otherwise would.

Kidney patients are now recommended for immediate MRI dialysis following an MRI scan.

This latest study has little to do with MRI kidney damage. However, there is concern nonetheless, according to a British doctor writing in the British Medical Journal.

Malcolm Kell is consultant surgeon and senior lecturer at the Eccles breast-screening unit at University College Dublin. He writes that MRI devices are so sensitive that they are picking up secondary growths better left alone.

Dr. Kell noted in the British Medical Journal that while the scans were extremely useful in monitoring advanced breast cancer and assessing chemotherapy, their use in early stage breast cancer had the potential to do more harm than good.

"Magnetic resonance mammography identifies occult disease in the breast that may not be visible on other imaging modalities, and this may lead to inappropriate treatment decisions.

"There is no compelling evidence that this technique should be routinely used in newly diagnosed breast cancer."

Not everyone agrees with him. Clinical director of Breast Cancer Care, Emma Pennery, noted, "MRI can be useful for looking for recurrence of the disease. It might detect recurrent disease, but you don't necessarily know when you do a mastectomy whether leaving it alone would have harmed the patient or not.

"The tumor may be harmless in some women, but you can't tell in whom it would be and in whom it wouldn't be."

Dr. Kell says that in spite of the continued use of X-ray imaging for early-stage detection, MRI has become favored for high-risk patients when combined with mammography and ultrasound. However, "its routine use in the management of patients with early-stage breast cancer may be unwarranted," he writes. "We have no evidence to support a clear benefit in this setting."

Regardless of the issue surrounding the use of MRI to diagnose early-stage breast cancer, the fact remains that women with weak kidneys or suffering from kidney disease could be exposed to grievous MRI contrast side effects unless their kidney conditions are properly identified and dialysis is administered immediately thereafter.


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