Breast magnetic resonance imaging in patients with occult breast carcinoma: evaluation on feasibility and correlation with histopathological findings

Chin Med J (Engl). 2011 Jun;124(12):1790-5.


Background: As an uncommon presentation, occult primary breast cancer remains a diagnostic and therapeutic challenge in clinical practice. This study aimed to retrospectively assess the feasibility of breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in patients with malignant axillary lymphadenopathy and unknown primary malignancy, and correlation with histopathological characteristics.

Methods: A total of 35 women with occult breast carcinoma were evaluated with dynamic contrast-enhanced breast MRI. Whole seriate section was used in all cases. MRI performance was assessed and correlated with histopathological findings.

Results: Twenty-one of 35 patients were found to have primary breast carcinoma histologically. Twenty of the 21 patients had abnormal MR findings and 1 patient had a normal MRI study. Of the remaining 14 patients, 10 were negative on both MRI and surgery. Four had suspicious enhancement on MRI and no corresponding tumor was found. Lesions with mass enhancement were found in 55% (11/20) and ductual and segmental enhancement in 45%. The average diameter of the primary tumors was 15 mm. Invasive ductal carcinomas were found in 81% (17/21). One of 17 invasive ductual carcinomas was too small to be graded. Fourteen of the remaining 16 were classified as grade II and 2 as grade I. Thirty-two of the 35 patients had received estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 examinations and the 12 of 32 were triple-negative breast carcinoma.

Conclusions: Mass lesions with small size and lesions with ductal or segment enhancement are common MRI features in patients with occult breast cancer. The dominant types of primary tumors are invasive ductal carcinoma with moderate histopathological grade. The rate of triple-negative breast carcinoma may be higher in occult breast cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Breast / pathology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies