This summary table contains detailed information about research studies. Summary tables offer an informative look at the science behind many breast cancer guidelines and recommendations. However, they should be viewed with some caution. In order to read and interpret research tables successfully, it is important to understand some key concepts. Learn how to read a research table.
Introduction: Breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses magnetic fields to create an image of the breast.
There is growing evidence that breast MRI in combination with mammography, compared to mammography alone, can increase breast cancer detection in some women at higher risk. The American Cancer Society and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network recommend breast MRI as part of breast cancer screening for women at higher risk due to [1-2]:
Breast MRI is not recommended as part of breast cancer screening for women at average risk.
Learn more about breast MRI.
Screening breast MRI has some drawbacks. Compared to mammography, it is more invasive because a contrast agent is given through an IV before the procedure. And, not all centers have radiologists specially trained to read breast MRI images. Breast MRI is also expensive (and not always covered by insurance) and has more false positive results than mammography.
Learn more about false positive results.
The main goal of any cancer screening test is to correctly identify those people who have cancer (called the sensitivity of the test). When sensitivity is high, very few cases are missed. However, this means some healthy people will be misidentified as having cancer (a false positive result). For example, a sensitivity of 90 percent means that 90 percent of people tested who truly have cancer are correctly identified as having cancer.
An ideal cancer screening test would also be able to correctly identify all the people who do not have cancer as not having it (called the specificity of the test). When specificity is high, there are fewer false positive results, but more cases of true cancer are missed. For example, a specificity of 90 percent means that 90 percent of the people who are healthy are correctly identified as not having cancer.
No screening test has perfect sensitivity and perfect specificity. There is a trade-off between the two for all types of screening tests. That is, when a test gains sensitivity, it loses some specificity.
Learn more about the quality of screening tests.
Study selection criteria: Clinical trials and meta-analyses of women at high risk for breast cancer (defined as either having a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation or having a family history suggesting a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation) with at least 20 invasive breast cancer cases.
Table note: The studies presented below compare sensitivity and specificity for screening with mammography alone, breast MRI alone and breast MRI plus mammography. At this time, there are no data comparing survival among women who have mammography alone versus those who have breast MRI plus mammography.
Study Population*(number of participants)
Kriege et al. 
Kuhl et al. 
Leach et al. 
Hagen et al. 
Warner et al. 
Warner et al. 
Granader et al. 
Breast MRI plus Mammography
N/A = Results are not available.
* Most study results combined cases of invasive breast cancer and ductal carcinoma in situ. All studies included at least 20 cases of invasive breast cancer.
† Sensitivity for invasive cancers only was 33% for mammography and 80% for breast MRI.
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