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New Procedure Can Help Detect Breast Cancer in Women with Dense Tissue

AMES, Iowa –A new procedure can help a certain group of women detect breast cancer early.

Breast cancer is a big worry for nurse Mindy Rash. She said, "I have a maternal aunt who had breast cancer in her mid-40's, but she's my mom's identical twin sister. So, just maternal aunt doesn't flag you as high, but when we start looking at it from a genetic standpoint, it's similar to my mom having breast cancer."

Rash started getting mammograms when she was 35. She learned she had another concern: dense breast tissue. "We know that women that have the densest breast tissue have not only a higher risk of breast cancer, but also run into difficulties with detection of breast cancer on mammography," said Dr. Grant Goldsberry, McFarland Clinic Radiologist.

An MRI is the gold standard in detecting breast cancer in women with dense breasts, but that can take 45 minutes to an hour and cost thousands of dollars. "The main restriction offering MRI up to this point is expense. MRI machines are expensive, the table time for the machine use is expensive. So, it just wasn't a reasonable alternative for screening a large population of patients."

The McFarland Clinic in Ames started offering an abbreviated breast MRI protocol this past year. It takes about 15 minutes and costs $399.

Dr. Robert Shreck with Medical Oncology and Hematology Associates said, “This abbreviated MRI offers it at a much more reasonable price a woman can afford, in fact, without their insurance support."

Dr. Shreck is the medical director of Iowa Army of Pink. The group led an effort to get an Iowa law requiring the mammography letters already sent to patients include information about breast density.  The FDA is currently advancing similar requirements nationally.

Dr. Shreck said it is important to have that information. "Read your letter that gives you your mammogram report. Read it thoroughly, and if you get information you're in the high-density group, talk to your family doctor," said Dr. Shreck.

Rash is glad she talked to her doctor and had the abbreviated MRI. "Thankfully, they're good. Nothing was seen on there, but my husband and I have talked about we're going to do this every year. I'm going to add this layer of screening every year,” said Rash.

The abbreviated breast MRI screening is not currently covered by insurance.

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