Molecular breast imaging (MBI), also known as breast-specific gamma imaging (BSGI), is a relatively new form of breast cancer detection conducted by injecting the patient in the arm with a specialized tracer and then obtaining images of the tracer distribution using detectors. The imaging procedure is similar to that of mammography, but with significantly less compression and each image takes between 5 to 10 minutes to obtain. Previous work has established that it can detect cancers missed by mammography, particularly in patients with dense breast tissue however new research, published earlier this year in the European Journal of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging, is the largest analysis conducted to date.
The research team evaluated hundreds of peer-reviewed articles published on this modality to determine the soundness of the scientific methodology used in each paper. Nineteen papers containing 3,093 patients met their strict criteria for inclusion. Their meta-analysis determined that MBI detected 95% of the cancers overall and that it was particularly useful in: cancers smaller than one centimeter, an early stage cancer called ductal carcinoma in-situ, and a type of cancer difficult to detect with mammography called lobular carcinoma with sensitivities of 84%, 88% and 93% respectively. The smallest malignancy detected by MBI was 1mm, and it was able to detect breast cancer in 4 of every 100 women who had a negative mammogram. The authors also noted that MBI was as sensitive as breast MRI in the detection of breast cancer but provided higher specificity (80%) meaning fewer positive results in women without disease. In addition, the MBI procedure can be performed for about a third of the cost of breast MRI and is useful for patients who cannot have an MRI study.