New breast cancer scan is designed with women’s comfort in mind

Lying in an MRI scanner is cold and noisy at the best of times, and if you’re being investigated for potential breast cancer, it is highly stressful.

Women are injected with a contrast agent to better visualise the blood vessels in their breasts, which induces a sensation that can make it feel as though they’ve wet themselves. They must then clamber, semi-clad, on to a bench and position themselves lying face-down, with their naked and unsupported breasts dangling into two holes and their hands above their heads, and remain in that position for 60-75 minutes while the scanning takes place.

I am the first of 30 a 40 healthy volunteers recruited as part of the Imogen study, which is testing whether an alternative form of MRI scanning is more comfortable and better able to detect tumours at an earlier stage – particularly in younger breasts.

Primero, aunque, I must endure a conventional, face-down MRI scan, with my breasts dangling into the radiofrequency coil that detects the magnetic resonance signal and transmits it to the computer that forms the final image. Sólo 10 minutes into the procedure, my legs and ribs are aching where the various parts of the bench are digging into me. Después 15 minutes I have pins and needles in my fingers and they’re starting to go numb.

The new technique is a modified version of an MRI scanning technique that is already widely used to evaluate liver disease. Crucialmente, it is being developed with women’s comfort in mind. So although I must still dangle my breasts into two large plastic cups, this is only for a few seconds while they are strapped to my chest like in a very unusual bra.

I then lie on my back and a flexible scanning coil is wrapped over the top of the cups, which prevent the coil from squashing my breasts and hold them upright on top of my chest while the scanning takes place.

Finalmente, the radiologist slides me into the scanner, where I lie comfortably for the next 20 minutos. It is still cold and noisy, but rather than worrying about the pain in my ribs and fingers, I am mostly thinking about what I’m going to eat for lunch.

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