Published on March 11, 2020

Essentia Health participates in study that could transform breast cancer screening

Essentia Health was one of 48 sites nationwide to participate in a groundbreaking study that could transform breast cancer screening and diagnosis.

In a study with 1,444 trial participants — including 14 at Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center — abbreviated breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) performed significantly better than mammography among average-risk women with dense breast tissue. Abbreviated breast MRI detected almost 2.5 times as many breast cancers as 3-D mammography.

Standard MRI, which isn’t limited by breast density, provides the best cancer-detection rate of all modalities, but it’s cost-prohibitive, takes almost an hour to perform and requires an injection. The abbreviated MRI exam takes only about 10 minutes and women experience very few side effects.

Women enrolled in the ECOG-ACRIN (Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group-American College of Radiology Imaging Network) Cancer Research Group study were between the ages of 40-75, had dense breasts and did not have breast cancer. They underwent both a 3-D mammogram and abbreviated MRI within 24 hours. Each test was analyzed by a separate radiologist who did not know the results of the other modality.

Currently, breast MRI screening is typically covered by insurance only for women with a high risk of developing breast cancer.

“The study results will lead to improved screening in women with dense breasts,” said Dr. Bret Friday, medical director of oncology research at Essentia. “It will take some time for these data to filter into insurance coverage, but I believe the abbreviated breast MRI will ultimately become the standard breast cancer screening for many women. By finding cancers earlier, we will be able to improve breast cancer outcomes and save lives.”

Dr. Friday’s wife, Louise Friday, was one of the 14 screened patients at Essentia.

“Participation in a clinical trial such as this study is a way for patients to be active participants in studies designed to improve outcomes for all cancer patients,” Dr. Friday said.

The Essentia Health Community Oncology Research Program receives funding through the National Cancer Institute to provide access to groundbreaking research studies across our region.

More than 40,000 women die annually from breast cancer, according to the ECOG-ACRIN study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association late last month.

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