Review of preoperative magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in breast cancer: should MRI be performed on all women with newly diagnosed, early stage breast cancer?

CA Cancer J Clin. Sep-Oct 2009;59(5):290-302. doi: 10.3322/caac.20028. Epub 2009 Aug 13.


Randomized controlled trials have shown equivalent survival for women with early stage breast cancer who are treated with breast-conservation therapy (local excision and radiotherapy) or mastectomy. Decades of experience have demonstrated that breast-conservation therapy provides excellent local control based on defined standards of care. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has been introduced in preoperative staging of the affected breast in women with newly diagnosed breast cancer because it detects additional foci of cancer that are occult on conventional imaging. The median incremental (additional) detection for MRI has been estimated as 16% in meta-analysis. In the absence of consensus on the role of preoperative MRI, we review data on its detection capability and its impact on treatment. We outline that the assumptions behind the adoption of MRI, namely that it will improve surgical planning and will lead to a reduction in re-excision surgery and in local recurrences, have not been substantiated by trials. Evidence consistently shows that MRI changes surgical management, usually from breast conservation to more radical surgery; however, there is no evidence that it improves surgical care or prognosis. Emerging data indicate that MRI does not reduce re-excision rates and that it causes false positives in terms of detection and unnecessary surgery; overall there is little high-quality evidence at present to support the routine use of preoperative MRI. Randomized controlled trials are needed to establish the clinical, psychosocial, and long-term effects of MRI and to show a related change in treatment from standard care in women newly affected by breast cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Breast / pathology
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Breast Neoplasms / surgery
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / statistics & numerical data*
  • Mastectomy / methods
  • Mastectomy, Segmental / methods
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Preoperative Care*
  • Prognosis