Q & A Library

Print this page | Sign up for free e-bulletins
 | Bookmark This Page

New Way to Find Breast Cancer?

What can you tell me about this new breast imaging system that finds more cancer than mammograms? Is it better than MRIs?

Answer (Published 11/11/2008)

I assume you're asking about molecular breast imaging (MBI), a system that is being studied for cancer detection in high-risk women with dense breasts. In studies so far, MBI has found more tumors than showed up on mammograms, which aren't very good at spotting cancer in dense breast tissue. The new system uses a radioactive "tracer" given intravenously. The radiation is absorbed more readily by abnormal cells than by normal ones and lends a "glow" to these cells that can be seen with special equipment.

Related Weil Products
Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging for Cancer Support - Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging - Do you or a loved one have cancer? The Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging online guide has simple, effective preventive health information and tools including an exclusive version of Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid. Join today and get 14 days free!

A Mayo Clinic engineer who has been working on MBI has reported on a study that compared it with mammograms. Both systems were tested on 940 women who have dense breasts (as do about one-quarter of all women 40 and older) and were considered at high risk of cancer. All told, 13 cases of breast cancer were found. MBI detected eight of them, one showed up on a mammogram and two were seen by both methods. Two other cases were missed entirely and turned up on later exams.

Now researchers are looking at how MBI stacks up against MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) for breast cancer detection. MRI is better than mammograms at finding cancer in dense breasts, but yields many false positives (mistaken indications of cancer when none is present) that lead to unnecessary biopsies. The false positive rate for mammograms is about nine percent and the false positive rate for MRI is even higher. The false positive rate for MBI, so far, is seven percent.

Another concern about MBI is the fact that it uses eight to 10 times the amount of radiation women get with mammograms, although I've read that engineers are working to lower that dose.

MBI will probably be less expensive than MRIs but more expensive than mammograms. The word is that MBI costs may be under $500 compared to more than $1,000 for MRIs. Right now, however, MBI is only being used experimentally in studies to see how it stacks up against the other methods of detecting breast cancer.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved Creative Commons Copyright Notice
A portion of the original material created by Weil Lifestyle on (specifically, all question and answer-type articles in the Dr. Weil Q&A Library) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

The Weil Vitamin Advisor
Get your FREE personalized vitamin recommendation & supplement plan today!

Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging
Your Online Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Start eating for your health - begin your free trial now.

Dr. Weil's Spontaneous Happiness
Achieve emotional well-being in just eight weeks! Start your 10-day free trial now!

Vitamin Library
Supplement your knowledge with Dr. Weil's essential vitamin facts. Learn why they are necessary and more.

Dr. Weil's Optimum Health Plan
Your 8-week plan to wellness.
Begin your journey today!

Dr. Weil's Head-to-Toe Wellness Guide
Your guide to natural health.
Use the Wellness Guide today!

Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Food Pyramid

Our interactive tool can help improve overall health through diet.

Condition Care Guide
Learn about health conditions from acne to vertigo, and Dr. Weil's view of the best treatment options for each.

Healthy Recipes
Discover a treasure trove of healthy, healing foods and creative, delicious ways to prepare them.

Q&A Library
Over 2,000 questions from you and their corresponding answers from Dr. Weil.

Copyright © 2015 Weil Lifestyle
Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.

Ad Choice
Advertising Notice

This Site and third parties who place advertisements on this Site may collect and use information about your visits to this Site and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like to obtain more information about these advertising practices and to make choices about online behavioral advertising, please click here