Breast health

How ObGyns can best work with radiologists to optimize screening for patients with dense breasts

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Dr. Albright: When I discuss breast density, I make sure that patients understand that their mammogram determines the density of their breast tissue. I review that in the higher density categories (heterogeneously dense or extremely dense), there is a higher risk of missing cancer, and that these categories are also associated with a higher risk of breast cancer. I also discuss the potential need for supplemental screening, for which my institution primarily offers Fast MRI. However, we can offer breast ultrasonography instead as an option, especially for those concerned about gadolinium exposure. Our center offers either of these supplemental screenings at a cost of $299. I also review the lack of coverage for supplemental screening by some insurance carriers, as both providers and patients may need to advocate for insurer coverage of adjunct studies.

Educational resources

6. What reference materials, illustrations, or other tools do you use to educate your patients?

Dr. Etkin-Kramer: I frequently use handouts printed from the website, and there is now a brand new patient fact sheet that I have just started using. I also have an example of breast density categories from fatty replaced to extremely dense on my computer, and I am putting it on a new smart board.

Dr. Albright: The extensive resources available at can improve both patient and provider knowledge of these important issues, so I suggest patients visit that website, and I use many of the images and visuals to help explain breast density. I even use the materials from the website for educating my resident trainees on breast health and screening.

MRI’s role in breast cancer screening for childhood cancer survivors

Nearly 16,000 children (up to age 19 years) face cancer-related treatment every year.1 For girls and young women, undergoing chest radiotherapy puts them at higher risk for secondary breast cancer. In fact, they have a 30% chance of developing such cancer by age 50—a risk that is similar to women with a BRCA1 mutation.2 Therefore, current recommendations for breast cancer screening among those who have undergone childhood chest radiation (≥20 Gy) are to begin annual mammography, with adjunct magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), at age 25 years (or 8 years after chest radiotherapy).3

To determine the benefits and risks of these recommendations, as well as of similar strategies, Yeh and colleagues performed simulation modeling using data from the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study and two CISNET (Cancer Intervention and Surveillance Modeling Network) models.4 For their study they targeted a cohort of female childhood cancer survivors having undergone chest radiotherapy and evaluated breast cancer screening with the following strategies:

  • mammography plus MRI, starting at ages 25, 30, or 35 years and continuing to age 74
  • MRI alone, starting at ages 25, 30, or 35 years and continuing to age 74.

They found that both strategies reduced the risk of breast cancer in the targeted cohort but that screening beginning at the earliest ages prevented most deaths. No screening at all was associated with a 10% to 11% lifetime risk of breast cancer, but mammography plus MRI beginning at age 25 reduced that risk by 56% to 71% depending on the model. Screening with MRI alone reduced mortality risk by 56% to 62%. When considering cost per quality adjusted life-year gained, the researchers found that screening beginning at age 30 to be the most cost-effective.4

Yeh and colleagues addressed concerns with mammography and radiation. Although they said the associated amount of radiation exposure is small, the use of mammography in women younger than age 30 is controversial—and not recommended by the American Cancer Society or the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.5,6

Bottom line. Yeh and colleagues conclude that MRI screening, with or without mammography, beginning between the ages of 25 and 30 should be emphasized in screening guidelines. They note the importance of insurance coverage for MRI in those at risk for breast cancer due to childhood radiation exposure.4


  1. National Cancer Institute. How common is cancer in children? Accessed September 25, 2020.
  2. Moskowitz CS, Chou JF, Wolden SL, et al. Breast cancer after chest radiation therapy for childhood cancer. J Clin Oncol. 2014;32:2217- 2223.
  3. Children’s Oncology Group. Long-term follow-up guidelines for survivors of childhood, adolescent, and young adult cancers. http:// Accessed September 25, 2020.
  4. Yeh JM, Lowry KP, Schechter CB, et al. Clinical benefits, harms, and cost-effectiveness of breast cancer screening for survivors of childhood cancer treated with chest radiation. Ann Intern Med. 2020;173:331-341.
  5. Saslow D, Boetes C, Burke W, et al; American Cancer Society Breast Cancer Advisory Group. American Cancer Society guidelines for breast screening with MRI as an adjunct to mammography. CA Cancer J Clin. 2007;57:75-89.
  6. National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology. Breast cancer screening and diagnosis version 1.2019. Accessed September 25, 2020.


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