PURPOSE: To investigate the degree and prevalence of radiation-induced changes on breast magnetic resonance (MR) images in patients who were undergoing radiation therapy at that time or soon after, to assess prospectively whether possible radiation-induced effects impair diagnostic accuracy of imaging, and to investigate the prevalence of residual ipsilateral and synchronous contralateral breast cancer in patients undergoing radiation therapy after resection of a supposedly solitary breast cancer.
MATERIALS AND METHODS: A total of 116 dynamic bilateral breast MR studies were performed during and up to 12 months after radiation therapy in 72 patients who had undergone breast-conservation surgery without preoperative MR imaging. Patients were assigned to four groups according to the time span between imaging and radiation therapy. Structural changes, parenchymal enhancement pattern, and prevalence and imaging features of incidental lesions were analyzed and compared with those of the nonirradiated breast.
RESULTS: Radiation therapy led to parenchymal edema and a significant (two-tailed paired Student t test) increase in enhancement rates in the irradiated compared with those in the contralateral breasts during and up to 3 months after radiation therapy. Neither during nor at any time after radiation therapy did the mean enhancement rates reach diagnostically relevant rates. Unsuspected residual or recurrent breast cancers were identified in irradiated breasts of five patients and in contralateral breasts of two patients. False-positive MR findings resulted in a biopsy in three patients with irradiated and in one patient with nonirradiated breasts. There was no difference in enhancement kinetics or morphology of benign or malignant lesions in irradiated versus nonirradiated breasts.
CONCLUSION: Radiation-induced changes occur at MR imaging during or up to 3 months after radiation therapy but are much less severe than reported. Detection and characterization of lesions were feasible with comparable diagnostic accuracies in irradiated and nonirradiated breasts.
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