Diffusion-weighted MRI for Unenhanced Breast Cancer Screening

Radiology. 2019 Dec;293(3):504-520. doi: 10.1148/radiol.2019182789. Epub 2019 Oct 8.


Diffusion-weighted (DW) MRI is a rapid technique that measures the mobility of water molecules within tissue, reflecting the cellular microenvironment. At DW MRI, breast cancers typically exhibit reduced diffusivity and appear hyperintense to surrounding tissues. On the basis of this characteristic, DW MRI may offer an unenhanced method to detect breast cancer without the costs and safety concerns associated with dynamic contrast material-enhanced MRI, the current reference standard in the setting of high-risk screening. This application of DW MRI has not been widely explored but is particularly timely given the growing health concerns related to the long-term use of gadolinium-based contrast material. Moreover, increasing breast density notification legislation across the United States is raising awareness of the limitations of mammography in women with dense breasts, emphasizing the need for additional cost-effective supplemental screening examinations. Preliminary studies suggest unenhanced MRI with DW MRI may provide higher sensitivity than screening mammography for the detection of breast malignancies. Larger prospective multicenter trials are needed to validate single-center findings and assess the performance of DW MRI for generalized breast cancer screening. Standardization of DW MRI acquisition and interpretation is essential to ensure reliable sensitivity and specificity, and an optimal approach for screening using readily available techniques is proposed here.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Early Detection of Cancer
  • Female
  • Humans