Harvard Women's Health Watch

MRI's emerging role in breast cancer screening

The American Cancer Society now recommends MRI in addition to mammography for women at high risk for breast cancer.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and every year we're reminded that breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women. But recently, we've also been getting some good news: The breast cancer death rate has been declining since 1990. More women are surviving — not only because of advances in treatment, but also because the disease is detected early, while it can still be cured. And regular screening with mammography is the main reason for that.

Generally, screening tests are designed to uncover evidence of a disease in people who have no symptoms. Public health organizations decide to recommend a screening test by balancing whether it can identify a disease early enough to permit successful treatment (the benefit) against its likelihood of missing the disease or suggesting that it's present when it's not, causing emotional upset and leading to unnecessary procedures (the risk).

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