Purpose: To retrospectively describe the magnetic resonance (MR) imaging characteristics of normal breast tissue and breast cancer in the setting of lactation.
Materials and methods: The HIPAA-compliant study was exempt from institutional approval, and informed consent was not required. Unilateral MR imaging of 10 breasts was performed in seven lactating patients aged 27-42 years. For the three patients in whom both breasts were imaged, each breast was imaged on a separate day. Nonenhanced T1-weighted and fat-saturated T2-weighted images and contrast material-enhanced dynamic three-dimensional (3D) T1-weighted spiral gradient-echo images interleaved with T1-weighted high-spatial-resolution 3D gradient-echo images (2.0 x 1.0 x 0.4-mm voxels) were obtained. Three readers in consensus assessed the glandular density, T2-weighted signal intensity, milk duct appearance, and contrast enhancement in normal and tumor-containing breast regions. The pharmacokinetic contrast enhancement parameters of tumors were compared with those of normal tissue by using Student t and Mann-Whitney tests.
Results: MR findings of normal breast tissue in the seven women included increased glandular density in six women, high T2-weighted signal intensity in six, dilated central ducts in seven, and rapid initial glandular contrast enhancement in seven. MR findings of invasive ductal carcinoma in five women, compared with findings of the normal glandular tissue, included lower T2-weighted signal intensity in five women, more avid and rapid contrast enhancement in five, and early contrast enhancement washout in four. One minute after contrast agent injection, tumor signal intensity increased significantly more than normal lactating tissue signal intensity (153% vs 60% from baseline, P = .016). The median two-compartment model K(21) exchange rate in the tumors, 0.078 sec(-1), was significantly faster than the K(21) exchange rate in normal tissue, 0.011 sec(-1) (P = .03).
Conclusion: Normal lactating glands have increased density, high T2-weighted signal intensity, and rapid moderate contrast enhancement. Breast cancers are visible during lactation owing to their lower signal intensity and more intense initial contrast enhancement with early washout compared with normal breast tissue.