Directly Informing Patients of Breast Cancer Risk, Options Improves Follow-Up Screening

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Follow-up MRI screening in women at high risk of breast cancer was improved when patients were informed directly of their potential risks and options.
Follow-up MRI screening in women at high risk of breast cancer was improved when patients were informed directly of their potential risks and options.

Women at high risk for breast cancer who receive a letter informing them of their options for additional imaging with contrast-enhanced MRI of the breast were more likely to return for additional screening than women whose doctors were solely informed on the available options.1

The study, published in the journal Health Communication, was performed in collaboration with Invision Sally Jobe Breast Centers, who contributed the anonymous patient data, and researchers from the University of Colorado Cancer Center, University of Colorado School of Medicine Department of Radiology and the Colorado School of Public Health.

In the first part of the study, only the primary care physician received a letter communicating recommendations for additional screening. In the second part of the study, both primary care physicians and the patients received letters detailing the American Cancer Society recommendations for additional screening for women with an elevated lifetime risk of breast cancer. The researchers found that the latter scenario resulted in a significant increase in patients undergoing follow-up breast MRIs.

The researchers caution that their results do not unequivocally prove that the increase in follow-up screening was due to communicating directly with the patient. According to the researchers, the observed increase may be the result of secular trends, including current events or changes in culture that could have influenced patient attitudes about MRI screening.

"We show that this kind of communication is associated with an increased rate of women returning for breast cancer screening with MRI," said Deborah Glueck, PhD, CU Cancer Center investigator, associate professor of radiology and biostatistics at the Colorado School of Public Health, and a member of the research team. "But the thing I really care about is whether risk assessment, good communication, and breast cancer screening actually save lives, or just cause harms from additional screening."


1. Brinton J, Barke L, Freivogel ME, et al. Informing women and their physicians about recommendations for adjunct breast MRI screening: a cohort study. Health Commun. 2017 Feb. 3. doi: 10.1080/10410236.2016.1278499 [Epub ahead of print]
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