Breast cancer test switch ruled out

A call to switch to hi-tech scanners to detect breast cancer rather than traditional mammograms was last night branded “impossible” by one of East Anglia's leading experts in the field.

A call to switch to hi-tech scanners to detect breast cancer rather than traditional mammograms was last night branded “impossible” by one of East Anglia's leading experts in the field.

Norwich North MP Dr Ian Gibson urged hospitals to step up their use of MRI scanners after an authoritative study suggested they were more effective at pinpointing aggressive early tumours before they spread.

The study suggested that women would have better odds of beating breast cancer if hospitals invested in more MRI scanners - and the staff to operate them.

But Dr Erika Denton, a consultant radiologist in breast imaging at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (N&N), said such a move was “exceptionally unlikely”.

Dr Denton, who is head of the Norwich Radiology Academy and the Department of Health's national clinical lead for diagnostic imaging, said: “A single set of research results doesn't merit a review of a successful screening programme.

“We have considerable breast MR experience here and use it a lot. We have an exceptionally successful screening system here in Norfolk. We use breast MR to screen ladies at very high risk and ladies who have had radiotherapy for Hodgkin's disease.

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“We use it for focussed screening for high-risk women. There's an evidence base for that in the research.”

She added: “We don't think one publication should be enough to make the changes suggested by Dr Gibson. It's exceptionally unlikely that there will be a switch from mammography to MRI scans for breast screening.

“It takes 45 minutes to do one breast MR and half an hour to report on the results. With mammograms it's six minutes for the picture and two minutes to report. We screen over 20,000 women per year, so it's clear what a switch would mean.

“It's just impossible. Nowhere in the western world, even the richest clinics in America, does what Dr Gibson is suggesting.”

Dr Gibson, long-serving chairman of the all-party parliamentary cancer group, called for pressure to be applied to drive up the number of MRI scans for breast cancer after the research was published in The Lancet on Friday.

The German study of more than 7,300 women, which used the two methods alongside each other, found that 92pc of the 167 women with a pre-invasive cancer called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) were diagnosed by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), compared with 56pc by mammography.

The tests at the University of Bonn Hospital also found that of 89 women with high-grade DCIS, 98pc were diagnosed by MRI but only 52pc by mammography. It suggested almost half of the aggressive cases would have been missed without the MRI scans.

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