Serendipity in diagnostic imaging: Magnetic resonance imaging of the breast

William F. Lawrence, Wenchi Liang, Jeanne S. Mandelblatt, Karen F. Gold, Matthew Freedman, Susan M. Ascher, Bruce J. Trock, Polun Chang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Background: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the breast has been proposed as a noninvasive diagnostic test for evaluation of suspicious ('index') lesions noted on mammography and/or clinical breast examination (CBE). However, women may have incidental ('serendipitous') lesions detected by MRI that are not found on mammography or CBE. To understand better whether or not biopsy procedures should be performed to evaluate serendipitous lesions, we estimated the breast cancer risk for women with this type of lesion. Methods: A decision analysis model was used to estimate the positive predictive value (i.e., the chance that a woman with a serendipitous lesion has cancer) of MRI for serendipitous lesions in women who had an abnormal mammogram and/or CBE suspicious for cancer (Where a biopsy procedure is recommended). We restricted the analysis to data from women whose index lesions were noncancerous and used meta-analysis of published medical literature to determine the likelihood ratios (measures of how test results change the probability of having cancer) for MRI and the combination of CBE and mammography. The positive predictive value of MRI was calculated using the U.S. population prevalence of cancer (derived from registry data) and the likelihood ratios of the diagnostic tests. Results: Under a wide variety of assumptions, the positive predictive value of MRI was extremely low for serendipitous lesions. For instance, assuming sensitivity and specificity values for MRI of 95.6% and 68.6%, respectively, approximately four of 1000 55- to 59-year-old women with serendipitous lesions would be expected to have cancer (positive predictive value = 0.44%, 95% confidence interval = 0.24%- 0.67%). Conclusion: In women with a suspicious lesion discovered by mammography and/or CBE that is found to be benign, serendipitous breast lesions detected by MRI are extremely unlikely to represent invasive breast cancer. Immediate biopsy of such serendipitous lesions may, therefore, not be required.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1792-1800
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the National Cancer Institute
Issue number23
StatePublished - Dec 2 1998
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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