Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the breast is the most sensitive imaging technique for the diagnosis and local staging of primary breast cancer and yet, despite the fact that it has been in use for 20 years, there is little evidence that its widespread uncritical adoption has had a positive impact on patient-related outcomes. This has been attributed previously to the low specificity that might be expected with such a sensitive modality, but with modern techniques and protocols, the specificity and positive predictive value for malignancy can exceed that of breast ultrasound and mammography. A more likely explanation is that historically, clinicians have acted on MRI findings and altered surgical plans without prior histological confirmation. Furthermore, modern adjuvant therapy for breast cancer has improved so much that it has become a very tall order to show a an improvement in outcomes such as local recurrence rates. In order to obtain clinically useful information, it is necessary to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the technique and the physiological processes reflected in breast MRI. An appropriate indication for the scan, proper patient preparation and good scan technique, with rigorous quality assurance, are all essential prerequisites for a diagnostically relevant study. The use of recognised descriptors from a standardised lexicon is helpful, since assessment can then dictate subsequent recommendations for management, as in the American College of Radiology BI-RADS (Breast Imaging Reporting and Data System) lexicon (1). It also enables audit of the service. However, perhaps the most critical factor in the generation of a meaningful report is for the reporting radiologist to have a thorough understanding of the clinical question and of the findings that will influence management. This has never been more important than at present, when we are in the throes of a remarkable paradigm shift in the treatment of both early stage and locally advanced breast cancer.
- Magnetic resonance imaging
- Breast cancer