Breast MR imaging for equivocal mammographic findings: Help or hindrance?

Catherine S. Giess, Sona A. Chikarmane, Dorothy A. Sippo, Robyn L. Birdwell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Breast magnetic resonance (MR) imaging, because of its extremely high sensitivity in detecting invasive breast cancers, is sometimes used as a diagnostic tool to evaluate equivocal mammographic findings. However, breast MR imaging should never substitute for a complete diagnostic evaluation or for biopsy of suspected, localizable suspicious mammographic lesions, whenever possible. The modality’s high cost, in addition to only moderate specificity, mandate that radiologists use it sparingly and with discrimination for problematic mammographic findings. It is rare that the reality or significance of a noncalcified mammographic finding remains equivocal or problematic at diagnostic mammography evaluation, which usually includes targeted ultrasonography (US). There are several reasons for this infrequent occurrence: (a) an asymmetry may persist on diagnostic views but be visible only on craniocaudal or mediolateral oblique projections, precluding three-dimensional localization for US or biopsy, or a lesion may persist on some diagnostic spot views but dissipate or efface on others; (b) uncertainty may exist as to whether apparent change is clinically important or owing to technical factors such as compression or positioning differences; or (c) a lesion may be suspected but biopsy options are limited owing to lack of a US correlate and lesion inaccessibility for stereotactic biopsy, or biopsy of a vague or questionably real lesion has been attempted unsuccessfully. This article will discuss the indications for problem-solving MR imaging for equivocal mammographic findings, present cases illustrating appropriate and inappropriate uses of problem-solving MR imaging, and present false-positive and false-negative cases affecting the specificity of breast MR imaging.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)943-956
Number of pages14
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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