A new method of breast screening for women with dense breast tissue could save thousands of lives by detecting breast cancer four to six years earlier than traditional mammography. 

The “Rapid Breast MRI” protocol – developed by Dr Strahle, chairman of Regional Medical Imaging in Flint – reduces scan time by 70% to only seven minutes and significantly reduces costs.

Currently, MRI imaging is only reserved for women at a high risk of breast cancer (around 2% of the population) with mammography being the standard method of breast screening.

Mammograms have proven to be a controversial method of screening however, producing imagery less informative than MRI scans and having a considerable false positive rate, resulting in many women undergoing unnecessary treatment.

According to Cancer Research UK, around 15,500 breast cancers are diagnosed through mammography screening in the UK each year, of which 4,000 women will be overdiagnosed and 1,300 lives are saved. This equates to around three women being overdiagnosed with breast cancer for every woman saved.

The new protocol was tested in 671 women over the space of seven years and proved to be a far quicker and cheaper method than diagnostic MRIs, as well as having a considerably lower false positive rate than mammography.

“Mammograms are like trying to see a thunderstorm through clouds without radar,” said Strahle. “MRI sees through dense tissue, allowing radiologists to spot virtually all suspicious tumours.”

Strahle clarified the extent of savings made using his new protocol: the Rapid Breast MRI costs $395 (£318) compared to a $700 (£564) diagnostic MRI and can potentially be performed every other year – rather than yearly – leading to annual savings of around $198 (£160) per patient.

“This is a major breakthrough,” said Strahle. “I can see a day when we can prevent this disease from killing women.”