SPECIAL REPORT: Bilateral breast MRI scanner detects cancer earlier

Delores Grimes, former patient
Delores Grimes, former patient

By Whitney Grunder - bio | email

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) – A fairly new, less invasive procedure is helping to detect breast cancer in its earliest stages. And East Texans don't have to travel to Houston to get it.

MRI-guided breast biopsies are offered right here at home as a screening tool for women with breast cancer, or those at high-risk of developing it.

In January, doctors removed a malignant lump from Delores Grimes' left breast.

"I felt like my world was falling apart but it didn't," said Grimes.

After surgery, doctors told Delores she was cancer free.

"I was blessed," she said. "I discovered it because it could have gotten a lot worse before I went in."

She is one of about 12 women screened with the bilateral breast MRI machine since it was purchased in November.

Radiologist Dr. Christopher Sherman says Memorial Hospital is the only facility in Deep East Texas to perform these MRI-guided breast biopsies.

"They're for women who were newly diagnosed with cancer to stage their cancer and screen their other breast," said Sherman.

The procedure lasts about 45 minutes. The patient places her breast inside the breast coil, a special apparatus designed for breast imaging. There's little compression to the breast, unlike a mammogram. These coils send electronic pulses into the breasts, allowing radiologists to record and retrieve images.

"It's wonderful because you are not in any discomfort. They make sure you're comfortable and that means a lot," said Grimes about the procedure.

Mostly the MRI scanner is known for producing impressive, high-quality images that can detect cancer at its earliest stages.

"They're catching it real early, like at five millimeters when it's real small. You'd never see that on a mammogram," said Sherman.

He explains with an example of an enhanced image.

"This woman I was told had a three-centimeter mass. I'm finding cancer that's at least nine centimeters in length. So it was underestimated with ultrasound and mammography," said Sherman.

Colors make the images easier for Sherman to identify.

"Red means something you need to worry about," he said. "Yellow is kind of in between benign and malignment and blue is something benign."

Sherman says the MRI machine will also be used to screen patients who are at high risk of developing breast cancer during their lifetimes.

"By screening you're catching the cancer earlier, before you can even feel the cancer so that the woman has a greater chance of surviving," said Sherman.

"If they're greater than 20 percent lifetime risk," he said. "That's a one-in-five chance. It's fairly high."

In November, Sherman surveyed 15 women ages 35 through 65 at high risk of developing breast cancer.

"You can ask them certain questions like how old were you when you got your first period, how old were you when you had your child, have you had a mother, sister or daughter with breast cancer," explained Sherman.

Starting in May he recommends these women are screened annually with the MRI scanner, along with their regularly scheduled mammograms.

"Mammography still is the standard of care and has volumes of literature behind it backing it as you know the gold standard for detecting breast cancer," said Sherman.

He says bilateral breast MRI technology has only been in use for about 20 years, with more aggressive research being conducted in the past 10 years.

"There isn't literature backing up breast MRI as diminishing mortality in women who are at increased risk but I hypothesize that will be the case," he said.

As more women are screened Sherman believes we will see life changing results.

Until then, MRI technology allows for advanced screening, providing additional confidence in the ability to detect cancer.

MRI technology also helps examine women who feel a lump after having surgery to determine if the cancer has come back. And, screenings can determine if a breast implant has ruptured.

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