MP's plea over cancer scanning

Women will have better odds of beating breast cancer if hospitals switch to hi-tech scanners to detect tumours rather than traditional mammograms, an East Anglian MP said last night.

Women will have better odds of beating breast cancer if hospitals switch to hi-tech scanners to detect tumours rather than traditional mammograms, an East Anglian MP said last night.

The MP's urgent call for action came as an authoritative study published today presented the strongest evidence yet of the potential key role of MRI scanners in pinpointing aggressive tumours before they spread.

Currently, in East Anglia and across the country, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is used as a back-up to mammograms.

But the study of more than 7,300 women, which used the two methods alongside each other, found 92pc of the 167 women with a pre-invasive cancer were diagnosed by MRI scan - compared with 56pc by mammography.

Last night cancer expert Dr Ian Gibson called for pressure to be applied to make MRI scans the main method of breast cancer screening.

The MP for Norwich North and long-serving chairman of the all-party parliamentary cancer group said: “They are not broadly used because MRI scanners are not available everywhere. But MRI scanning should be a priority.

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“At the moment hospitals do not always have the people to look at the scans because we haven't got sufficient NHS workforce to do it. And we don't always have the facilities. Now is the time to develop those facilities.”

Dr Gibson added: “Hospitals should get enough staff to do the job and get enough MRI scanners to make sure it's a key part of the cancer detection and treatment regime.

“Unfortunately, science and technology moves faster than politicians respond. Let's get the money, resources and staff in place and do something about it.”

Last year it emerged that an MRI scanner unit had stood idle at Cromer Hospital for months because of funding problems.

Dr Gibson said: “We should never hear again of MRI scans being unmanned. They are used across the region, but not enough. The facility is there and the recognition of its importance is there, but pressure needs to be applied.

“If MRI scans are used more often for breast cancer detection, women would live longer and have greater quality of life.”

At present the scans, which produce images using magnetic fields and radio waves, are used sparingly, and then only as back-up to conventional mammography x-rays.

The tests at the University of Bonn Hospital in Germany - made public today in The Lancet - also found that of 89 women with high grade ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), 98pc were diagnosed by MRI but only 52pc by mammography. Almost half of these aggressive cases would therefore have been missed without the MRI scans.

And despite picking up more high-grade cases, MRI did not result in a larger number of false positive diagnoses.

Two experts commenting in the journal said it was now clear that MRI out-performed mammography as a means of detecting breast tumours.

Dr Carla Boetes and Dr Ritse Mann, from Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre in Holland, wrote: “MRI should thus no longer be regarded as an adjunct to mammography but as a distinct method to detect breast cancer in its earliest stage.

“A large multicentre breast-screening trial with MRI in the general population is essential.”

Dr Emma Pennery, nurse consultant at Breast Cancer Care, said: “This study extends our existing knowledge about the accuracy of MRIs in diagnosing DCIS, suggesting they are more accurate than mammograms in this area.

“Further research is needed to clarify what implications this has on the way DCIS is currently diagnosed, and when it is most appropriate and efficient to use MRIs.”

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