The purpose of this review is to determine the effectiveness of 2 separate modalities, digital mammography (DM) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), relative to film mammography (FM), in the screening of women asymptomatic for breast cancer. A third analysis assesses the effectiveness and safety of the combination of MRI plus mammography (MRI plus FM) in screening of women at high risk. An economic analysis was also conducted.
- How does the sensitivity and specificity of DM compare to FM?
- How does the sensitivity and specificity of MRI compare to FM?
- How do the recall rates compare among these screening modalities, and what effect might this have on radiation exposure? What are the risks associated with radiation exposure?
- How does the sensitivity and specificity of the combination of MRI plus FM compare to either MRI or FM alone?
- What are the economic considerations?
The effectiveness of FM with respect to breast cancer mortality in the screening of asymptomatic average- risk women over the age of 50 has been established. However, based on a Medical Advisory Secretariat review completed in March 2006, screening is not recommended for women between the ages of 40 and 49 years. Guidelines published by the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Care recommend mammography screening every 1 to 2 years for women aged 50 years and over, hence, the inclusion of such women in organized breast cancer screening programs. In addition to the uncertainty of the effectiveness of mammography screening from the age of 40 years, there is concern over the risks associated with mammographic screening for the 10 years between the ages of 40 and 49 years.
The lack of effectiveness of mammography screening starting at the age of 40 years (with respect to breast cancer mortality) is based on the assumption that the ability to detect cancer decreases with increased breast tissue density. As breast density is highest in the premenopausal years (approximately 23% of postmenopausal and 53% of premenopausal women having at least 50% of the breast occupied by high density), mammography screening is not promoted in Canada nor in many other countries for women under the age of 50 at average risk for breast cancer. It is important to note, however, that screening of premenopausal women (i.e., younger than 50 years of age) at high risk for breast cancer by virtue of a family history of cancer or a known genetic predisposition (e.g., having tested positive for the breast cancer genes BRCA1 and/or BRCA2) is appropriate. Thus, this review will assess the effectiveness of breast cancer screening with modalities other than film mammography, specifically DM and MRI, for both pre/perimenopausal and postmenopausal age groups.
International estimates of the epidemiology of breast cancer show that the incidence of breast cancer is increasing for all ages combined whereas mortality is decreasing, though at a slower rate. The observed decreases in mortality rates may be attributable to screening, in addition to advances in breast cancer therapy over time. Decreases in mortality attributable to screening may be a result of the earlier detection and treatment of invasive cancers, in addition to the increased detection of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), of which certain subpathologies are less lethal. Evidence from the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (better known as SEER) cancer registry in the United States, indicates that the age-adjusted incidence of DCIS has increased almost 10-fold over a 20 year period, from 2.7 to 25 per 100,000.
There is a 4-fold lower incidence of breast cancer in the 40 to 49 year age group than in the 50 to 69 year age group (approximately 140 per 100,000 versus 500 per 100,000 women, respectively). The sensitivity of FM is also lower among younger women (approximately 75%) than for women aged over 50 years (approximately 85%). Specificity is approximately 80% for younger women versus 90% for women over 50 years. The increased density of breast tissue in younger women is likely responsible for the decreased accuracy of FM.
Treatment options for breast cancer vary with the stage of disease (based on tumor size, involvement of surrounding tissue, and number of affected axillary lymph nodes) and its pathology, and may include a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy. Surgery is the first-line intervention for biopsy-confirmed tumors. The subsequent use of radiation, chemotherapy or hormonal treatments is dependent on the histopathologic characteristics of the tumor and the type of surgery. There is controversy regarding the optimal treatment of DCIS, which is considered a noninvasive tumour.
Women at high risk for breast cancer are defined as genetic carriers of the more commonly known breast cancer genes (BRCA1, BRCA2 TP53), first degree relatives of carriers, women with varying degrees of high risk family histories, and/or women with greater than 20% lifetime risk for breast cancer based on existing risk models. Genetic carriers for this disease, primarily women with BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations, have a lifetime probability of approximately 85% of developing breast cancer. Preventive options for these women include surgical interventions such as prophylactic mastectomy and/or oophorectomy, i.e., removal of the breasts and/or ovaries. Therefore, it is important to evaluate the benefits and risks of different screening modalities, to identify additional options for these women.
This Medical Advisory Secretariat review is the second of 2 parts on breast cancer screening, and concentrates on the evaluation of both DM and MRI relative to FM, the standard of care. Part I of this review (March 2006) addressed the effectiveness of screening mammography in 40 to 49 year old average-risk women. The overall objective of the present review is to determine the optimal screening modality based on the evidence.
Evidence Review Strategy
The Medical Advisory Secretariat followed its standard procedures and searched the following electronic databases: Ovid MEDLINE, EMBASE, Ovid MEDLINE In-Process & Other Non-Indexed Citations, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews and The International Network of Agencies for Health Technology Assessment database. The subject headings and keywords searched included breast cancer, breast neoplasms, mass screening, digital mammography, magnetic resonance imaging. The detailed search strategies can be viewed in Appendix 1.
Included in this review are articles specific to screening and do not include evidence on diagnostic mammography. The search was further restricted to English-language articles published between January 1996 and April 2006. Excluded were case reports, comments, editorials, nonsystematic reviews, and letters.
Digital Mammography: In total, 224 articles specific to DM screening were identified. These were examined against the inclusion/exclusion criteria described below, resulting in the selection and review of 5 health technology assessments (HTAs) (plus 1 update) and 4 articles specific to screening with DM.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging: In total, 193 articles specific to MRI were identified. These were examined against the inclusion/exclusion criteria described below, resulting in the selection and review of 2 HTAs and 7 articles specific to screening with MRI.
The evaluation of the addition of FM to MRI in the screening of women at high risk for breast cancer was also conducted within the context of standard search procedures of the Medical Advisory Secretariat. as outlined above. The subject headings and keywords searched included the concepts of breast cancer, magnetic resonance imaging, mass screening, and high risk/predisposition to breast cancer. The search was further restricted to English-language articles published between September 2007 and January 15, 2010. Case reports, comments, editorials, nonsystematic reviews, and letters were not excluded.
MRI plus mammography: In total, 243 articles specific to MRI plus FM screening were identified. These were examined against the inclusion/exclusion criteria described below, resulting in the selection and review of 2 previous HTAs, and 1 systematic review of 11 paired design studies.
- English-language articles, and English or French-language HTAs published from January 1996 to April 2006, inclusive.
- Articles specific to screening of women with no personal history of breast cancer.
- Studies in which DM or MRI were compared with FM, and where the specific outcomes of interest were reported.
- Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) or paired studies only for assessment of DM.
- Prospective, paired studies only for assessment of MRI.
- Studies in which outcomes were not specific to those of interest in this report.
- Studies in which women had been previously diagnosed with breast cancer.
- Studies in which the intervention (DM or MRI) was not compared with FM.
- Studies assessing DM with a sample size of less than 500.
- Digital mammography.
- Magnetic resonance imaging.
- Screening with film mammography.
Outcomes of Interest
- Breast cancer mortality (although no studies were found with such long follow-up).
- Recall rates.
Summary of Findings
There is moderate quality evidence that DM is significantly more sensitive than FM in the screening of asymptomatic women aged less than 50 years, those who are premenopausal or perimenopausal, and those with heterogeneously or extremely dense breast tissue (regardless of age).
It is not known what effect these differences in sensitivity will have on the more important effectiveness outcome measure of breast cancer mortality, as there was no evidence of such an assessment.
Other factors have been set out to promote DM, for example, issues of recall rates and reading and examination times. Our analysis did not show that recall rates were necessarily improved in DM, though examination times were lower than for FM. Other factors including storage and retrieval of screens were not the subject of this analysis.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging
There is moderate quality evidence that the sensitivity of MRI is significantly higher than that of FM in the screening of women at high risk for breast cancer based on genetic or familial factors, regardless of age.
Radiation Risk Review
Cancer Care Ontario conducted a review of the evidence on radiation risk in screening with mammography women at high risk for breast cancer. From this review of recent literature and risk assessment that considered the potential impact of screening mammography in cohorts of women who start screening at an earlier age or who are at increased risk of developing breast cancer due to genetic susceptibility, the following conclusions can be drawn:
For women over 50 years of age, the benefits of mammography greatly outweigh the risk of radiation-induced breast cancer irrespective of the level of a woman’s inherent breast cancer risk.
Annual mammography for women aged 30 – 39 years who carry a breast cancer susceptibility gene or who have a strong family breast cancer history (defined as a first degree relative diagnosed in their thirties) has a favourable benefit:risk ratio. Mammography is estimated to detect 16 to 18 breast cancer cases for every one induced by radiation (Table 1). Initiation of screening at age 35 for this same group would increase the benefit:risk ratio to an even more favourable level of 34-50 cases detected for each one potentially induced.
Mammography for women under 30 years of age has an unfavourable benefit:risk ratio due to the challenges of detecting cancer in younger breasts, the aggressiveness of cancers at this age, the potential for radiation susceptibility at younger ages and a greater cumulative radiation exposure.
Mammography when used in combination with MRI for women who carry a strong breast cancer susceptibility (e.g., BRCA1/2 carriers), which if begun at age 35 and continued for 35 years, may confer greatly improved benefit:risk ratios which were estimated to be about 220 to one.
While there is considerable uncertainty in the risk of radiation-induced breast cancer, the risk expressed in published studies is almost certainly conservative as the radiation dose absorbed by women receiving mammography recently has been substantially reduced by newer technology.
A CCO update of the mammography radiation risk literature for 2008 and 2009 gave rise to one article by Barrington de Gonzales et al. published in 2009 (Barrington de Gonzales et al., 2009, JNCI, vol. 101: 205-209). This article focuses on estimating the risk of radiation-induced breast cancer for mammographic screening of young women at high risk for breast cancer (with BRCA gene mutations). Based on an assumption of a 15% to 25% or less reduction in mortality from mammography in these high risk women, the authors conclude that such a reduction is not substantially greater than the risk of radiation-induced breast cancer mortality when screening before the age of 34 years. That is, there would be no net benefit from annual mammographic screening of BRCA mutation carriers at ages 25-29 years; the net benefit would be zero or small if screening occurs in 30-34 year olds, and there would be some net benefit at age 35 years or older.
The Addition of Mammography to Magnetic Resonance Imaging
The effects of the addition of FM to MRI screening of high risk women was also assessed, with inclusion and exclusion criteria as follows:
- English-language articles and English or French-language HTAs published from September 2007 to January 15, 2010.
- Articles specific to screening of women at high risk for breast cancer, regardless of the definition of high risk.
- Studies in which accuracy data for the combination of MRI plus FM are available to be compared to that of MRI and FM alone.
- RCTs or prospective, paired studies only.
- Studies in which women were previously diagnosed with breast cancer were also included.
- Studies in which outcomes were not specific to those of interest in this report.
- Studies in which there was insufficient data on the accuracy of MRI plus FM.
- Both MRI and FM.
- Screening with MRI alone and FM alone.
Outcomes of Interest
Summary of Findings
Magnetic Resonance Imaging Plus Mammography
Moderate GRADE Level Evidence that the sensitivity of MRI plus mammography is significantly higher than that of MRI or FM alone, although the specificity remains either unchanged or decreases in the screening of women at high risk for breast cancer based on genetic/familial factors, regardless of age.
- These studies include women at high risk defined as BRCA1/2 or TP53 carriers, first degree relatives of carriers, women with varying degrees of high risk family histories, and/or >20% lifetime risk based on existing risk models. This definition of high risk accounts for approximately 2% of the female adult population in Ontario.