Molecular Breast Imaging

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[lwptoc] What is Molecular Breast Imaging (MBI) and why is it needed? According to a survey conducted by the US Health Council, women don’t undergo an annual mammogram until they turn 40. However, it usually gets difficult for a doctor to read and see the problems on a mammogram in cases of young women with… Read More

Molecular Breast Imaging


What is Molecular Breast Imaging (MBI) and why is it needed?

According to a survey conducted by the US Health Council, women don’t undergo an annual mammogram until they turn 40. However, it usually gets difficult for a doctor to read and see the problems on a mammogram in cases of young women with dense breast tissue. While mammography helps detect and save women from breast cancer, there is yet another test available which has proven to be fairly effective and highly efficient when it comes to detecting breast cancer. This new test used for the early detection of breast cancer is called Molecular Breast Imaging (MBI).

Unlike a mammogram, MBI penetrates deep into the breast tissue, helping doctors identify cancer at a molecular level before any changes occur in and around the breast. Similarly, MBI can effectively differentiate between a tumor and dense breast tissue, which is fairly difficult in a mammogram. Early detection of breast cancer now possible because of MBI, has led to an increased survival rate in women with breast cancer.

Why is MBI a better choice over MRI?

For years, doctors had to order very expensive MRI tests if the mammogram results proved to be inconclusive. However, medical doctors still recommend the MRI if the patient is at a higher risk for breast cancer. But, if patients without a family history of breast cancer have dense breast tissue, they are prescribed to undergo the Molecular Breast Imaging which involves injecting the subject with a little amount of radiation using a radioactive tracer.

The tracer is passed through the arm vein into the breast which then accumulates with hyperactive or hypermetabolic cells. This gives out a hotspot on the MBI scan, indicating some abnormality within the breast. The dense breast tissue appears to be white in a mammogram and can mask potential cancers.

However, in MBI, dense breast tissue appears as big black spots, making it easier for doctors to detect breast abnormalities and cancer. A mammogram is the standard test for all women. For women with dense breasts, an MRI is recommended which is very expensive and can cost you around $1200. Therefore, for women with dense breasts who are not at high risk, a $400 MBI test is the recommendation.

Molecular Breast Imaging For The Early Detection Of Breast Cancer

Today molecular breast imaging is among the most exciting advances within the diagnostic imaging field. The technology is helping physicians and patients see what matters most in diagnosing breast cancer. Ever since its invention, the machine has helped save the lives of several women by early detection of breast cancer. 

With the BSGI, it is now possible for doctors to look specifically at the breast and the tail of the breast. The MBI picks up areas of abnormal activity that may represent cancer formation. It is proven to be helpful in scenarios where the doctors wanted to determine the extent of cancer or identify additional cancer sites. Doctors and patients enjoy the benefits of MRI and MBI being used interchangeably in the diagnostic workup of the patient as the two imaging tests have comparable sensitivity for detecting cancers. Many studies have shown that molecular breast imaging has a greater specificity which means that it is more effective in differentiating benign from malignant tissue.

Surgical Advantages Of Molecular Breast Imaging (MBI)

Breast-specific gamma imaging is often used as an adjunct modality to breast cancer diagnosis. It is used on a large scale in several different clinical situations. One of the major advantages of an MBI is that it helps in the early detection of breast cancer. It is used virtually in every biopsy-proven cancer area to understand if there are any other areas of cancer in that breast or if there is possibly cancer in the other breast before the patient goes on to definitive breast surgery.

How Does Molecular Breast Imaging Work?

The compound used in breast specific gamma imaging is taken up in the breast tissue in proportion to the amount of blood flow to that area and how active that tissue is. There is more activity and a high blood flow in cases of breast cancer and which is why this technology works.

With the help of a radioactive tracer with an attached camera, molecular breast imaging can detect breast cancer. However, an MBI is more than just taking a picture. Besides, MBI also highlights and shows the difference in tissue activity in and around the breasts.


  1. Patient’s arm vein injected with radioactive tracer (Radiation Level = Minimum).
  2. Once injected, the tracer proceeds to attach itself to the breast cancer cells (if any).
  3. The Dilon 6800, a high-resolution gamma camera, is used for detecting the cancer cells.
  4. The camera is highly optimised and configured to effectively carry out Breast-Specific Gamma Imaging (BSGI).
  5. Camera collects vital information by viewing the metabolic activity in and around the breast tissue.

Molecular Breast Imaging Cost

For women with dense breasts but who are at low risk of breast cancer, a $400 MBI is the recommended test. A combination of mammography and MBI will cost you around $571. Average MBI costs less than an MRI by up to 70% and all this translates into a more cost-effective medicine.


While the MBI is a proven safe-testing method, there are a few risks associated with it which will help you determine whether the test is right for you. Here are a few risks MBI poses:

  • Low-Level Radiation Exposure

As mentioned above, a patient’s vein is injected with a radioactive tracer with minimal levels of radiation. However, MBI, when done along with a mammogram for detecting breast cancer, would expose you to higher levels of radiation.

  • Reaction To The Tracer

If you have any allergies, inform the doctor before the procedure as you may later develop an allergic reaction to the tracer.

  • Not All Cancers Can Be Detected

Though MBI helps see tumours clearly as compared to a mammogram, there are still some tumours which may be located in areas difficult to view during MBI. As a result, there is a slight chance that the test might miss detecting some cancers.


Is MBI covered by Medicare?

Medicare policies for MBI have not been developed yet, therefore MBI doesn’t fall under medicare categories.

How and when will you get your BSGI test results?

A BSGI or MBI test results are usually determined the same day at the diagnostic lab or hospital – depending on the load, your results will be handed to you in a week or two in a file and an online medical report, mailed to you.

Does the BSGI test hurt?

A Molecular Breast Imaging test doesn’t hurt. The cameras and other equipment will record activity in your breasts and this goes on for 10 minutes. After one side is done, your position will be changed and the same procedure is followed.

What is Scintimammography?

Scintimammography is the same as BSGI or MBI. It is a diagnostic procedure used for patients with post-operative breast scar tissue, and breast implant surgery.

What are the advantages of the BSGI test?

Unlike a mammogram, MBI can regularly detect malignant breast tumours less than 2cm in diameter. MBI is done every other year in addition to the yearly mammogram. However, MBI is a supplemental test and not a replacement for a mammogram. It is difficult to detect breast cancer in women with dense breast tissue. However, MBI can detect breast cancer in women with the help of a radioactive tracer and a camera.