(Good Things Utah) Last week, journalist Katie Couric shared some personal news: earlier this summer she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

In a post on her website, Couric explained that her gynecologist had reminded her she was due for a mammogram in her last two years in December 2020.

Couric, who lost her first husband Jay Monahan to colon cancer in 1998, said she planned on filming the test to share with her audience, much like when she underwent colon cancer screening while working for the morning show “Today.”

Because she has dense breast tissue, she explained, she routinely undergoes a breast sonogram in addition to a mammogram since dense breasts can make it more difficult for mammograms to detect abnormalities.

As Breast Cancer Awareness Month begins on Saturday, breast cancer physicians at Intermountain Healthcare are renewing their call for Utah women to get their annual screening mammograms as a potentially life-saving measure for so many who delayed screenings due to the COVID pandemic.



Intermountain is also unveiling a new option for screenings called abbreviated MRI. The more sensitive scans are meant to help women considered to be high risk, catch breast cancer earlier – and ultimately save more lives.

Using a normal magnetic resonance imaging machine already in hospitals, doctors can do a scan of just the breasts which only takes about ten minutes, and costs significantly less than conventional MRI.

In the United States, one in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. One of the ways doctors have increased survival rates is with early detection using annual screening mammography.

Now doctors with Intermountain Healthcare have a new tool for early detection called abbreviated MRI. Using a normal magnetic resonance imaging machine already in hospitals, doctors can do a scan of just the breasts which only takes about ten minutes, and costs significantly less than conventional MRI.

“Scans from an MRI are more sensitive and can detect certain cancers earlier than a normal mammogram,” said Brett Parkinson, MD, medical director of Intermountain Healthcare’s Breast Care Center. “Studies have also shown the sensitivity of a mammogram is about 70-85 percent while an MRI 95-98 percent. That sensitivity is especially important for women with dense breast tissue because it can be harder for a mammogram to pick up tumors early because of the extra tissue.”



Recently, journalist Katie Couric announced she had been diagnosed and treated for breast cancer this summer. Couric said she has dense breast tissue, a risk factor for developing breast cancer.

Couric also stressed the importance of doing the screening on an annual basis.

She was only six months overdue for her regular screening when she began to experience symptoms that led to the discovery of the tumor in her breast.

By the end of the year, the scans will be available at Intermountain Medical Center for women considered to be at higher risk of breast cancer which is determined by several factors including family history and density of breast tissue. Using data points from previous scans and a questionnaire, so doctors can help determine the risk level for developing breast cancer.

Those with a score at or above 20 percent are considered high risk and eligible for the abbreviated MRI. SelectHealth Insurance will cover the MRI for high-risk women. However, patients will want to check with their individual insurance on coverage. Since time in the scanner is shorter, the cost is lower than a traditional MRI and will run around $400 for those paying out of pocket.



Studies have shown there are still some cancers that are better detected on mammograms so abbreviated MRI won’t replace a woman’s annual screenings. Doctors say those at higher risk should receive both scans annually as a preventative measure.

MRIs for breast cancer detection in high-risk patients have been around for around 20 years. Abbreviated MRI is relatively new, and doctors hope with the faster scan and lower cost it could become more widely used in the future.

To schedule a screening, call 801-507-7840, or visit intermountainhealthcare.org/mammogram



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