New York: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans can be used to identify several potentially useful biomarkers of breast cancer, which could help detect the disease early, according to a study.
Researchers from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in the US compared healthy breast tissue of patients with malignant - which can spread in the body - and benign or non-cancerous breast tumours.
They found that multiple differences in biomarkers can be assessed with Positron-emission tomography (PET) or MRI imaging, which could help in the screening, and risk-reduction strategies.
In breast cancer, early detection remains key to improved prognosis and survival, according to the study published in The Journal of Nuclear Medicine.
While screening mammography -- which uses low-energy X-rays to examine the human breast -- has decreased mortality for breast cancer patients by 30 per cent, its sensitivity is limited and is decreased in women with dense breast tissue.
"Such shortcomings warrant further refinements in breast cancer screening modalities, and the identification of imaging biomarkers to guide follow-up care for breast cancer patients," said Doris Leithner, a research fellow at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
The study included 141 patients with imaging abnormalities on mammography or sonography on a tumour-free breast.
The patients underwent combined PET/MRI of the breast with dynamic contrast-enhanced MRI, diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI) and, the radiotracer 18F-FDG PET.
In all patients, several imaging biomarkers were recorded in the tumour-free breast, including background parenchymal enhancement, breast parenchymal uptake, and fibroglandular tissue.
Differences among the biomarkers were analysed by two independent readers, the researchers said.
A total of 100 malignant and 41 benign lesions were assessed, they said.
In the contralateral breast tissue, background parenchymal enhancement, and breast parenchymal uptake were decreased and differed significantly between patients with benign and malignant lesions.
The contralateral breast cancer (CBC) is a tumour in the opposite breast which was diagnosed more than six months following the detection of the first cancer.
"Based on these results, tracer uptake of normal breast parenchyma in 18F-FDG PET might serve as another important, easily quantifiable imaging biomarker in breast cancer, similar to breast density in mammography and background parenchymal enhancement in MRI," Leithner explained.
"As hybrid PET/MRI scanners are increasingly being used in clinical practice, they can simultaneously assess and monitor multiple imaging biomarkers -- including breast parenchymal uptake -- which could consequently contribute to risk-adapted screening, and guide risk-reduction strategies," he said.