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Why it’s becoming harder for women to get a breast cancer MRI

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RICHMOND, Va. - As the owner of an interior design business in Richmond for 20 years, Karen Hardy knows attention to detail is important. So she said she did not hesitate in 2010 when her doctor recommended a breast MRI, an even more detailed screening test because she had been diagnosed with breast cancer back in 2005.

"Whatever you tell me to do, I'm going to do it,” Hardy recalled saying about her doctor's recommendation.

The MRI is considered to be more sensitive, picking up abnormalities sometimes missed on a mammogram.

Hardy had four breast MRIs in four years, all of them clear. But this year, she said she decided not to have the test. She called it grueling.

"Uncomfortable may be an understatement, " Hardy said . "You have to lie completely still for at least 40 minutes."

While Hardy felt she did not need an MRI this year, some women who may want one have run into difficulties. That's because health insurance companies are making it harder for women who are not at high risk for breast cancer to get a screening MRI, according to Dr. Misti Wilson with the Bon Secours Virginia Breast Center.

Two large studies found an increased use of the test in the past decade among women considered at average risk for breast cancer.

A woman can be considered at high risk for breast cancer if:

  • she has a strong family history of breast and or ovarian cancer
  • she had previous abnormal breast biopsies
  • she carries the breast cancer gene
  • she has a previous history of chest radiation
  • she is of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, which is known for having hereditary cancers

Using these criteria, if your doctor determined your risk for breast cancer is 20 percent or higher and you're 30 years old or older, you are considered high risk.

"You have to be careful and not use it on everybody," Dr. Wilson said.

The concern, according to Wilson, is unnecessary biopsies and cost.

The average cost of a mammogram is $800. The average coast of a screening MRI is $4,500.

"I think women need to know that just because the MRI is there does not mean that it is the best test for everyone," Wilson said.

With her focus on the details of both her business and her health, Hardy said she was  confident her decision not to have a breast MRI this year is the right one. She urged other women to understand their choices.

"If they don't give you true reasons other than it may detect breast cancer, well, so will a mammogram," Hardy said.

Talk to your doctor about your screening options and know which tests your health insurance company will cover.


    • Eugene Golden

      Nothing to do with the PPACA. What it has to do with is doctors running tons of unnecessary tests over and over when there is no risk or indicators that would require the use of the more expensive tests to be run again and again when there has been no detection of abnormalities in previous tests or family genetic history. This has been a constant abuse of our healthcare system for years and the insurance companies more so than the government are making an attempt to rein in this excessive expensive testing. There are often less expensive tests that serve low risk patients just like some older drugs that are now generic serve a patient just as well as the high dollar patent protected drugs that the drug companies are pushing doctors to prescribe.

      • Ken Mitchell

        Since when does the government’s involvement ever lower costs. And when Obama care is fully operational, the wait times will greatly increase. Look no further than the VA to see this disaster is heading.

      • manalishi

        You can spin it, cover for it, rationalize it, or conduct democrat damage control as you wish. This is reduced and/or rationed healthcare under the direct supervision of Barry Soertoro. I still cringe at the indisputable fact that the likes of Sarah Palin continues to be proven smarter and more accurate (even honest) than the collective best the democrat party has to offer. Ms. Hardy had coverage before your scheme was usurped via reconciliation.

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