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Clin Radiol. 2000 Dec;55(12):921-8.

Accuracy of axillary MR imaging in treated breast cancer for distinguishing between recurrent tumour and treatment effects: does intravenous Gd-DTPA enhancement help in cases of diagnostic dilemma?

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  • 1Department of Diagnostic Radiology, Christie Hospital NHS Trust, England, UK.



To evaluate the sensitivity and specificity of axillary magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in symptomatic patients, who had previously been treated for breast cancer, compared with clinical outcome after a minimum of 1 year.


One hundred and five patients underwent axillary MRI examinations and were diagnosed as axillary tumour, metastatic tumour, treatment effect or normal.


At MRI, 48 patients had axillary tumour, 51 had metastatic tumour (37 had both), 27 had treatment effect and 22 were normal. At outcome (median follow-up, 484 days), 54 patients were positive for axillary tumour, 59 for metastatic disease (40 had both), 21 had treatment effect alone and 18 were clear. Magnetic resonance imaging showed 89% sensitivity, 100% specificity and 94% accuracy for recurrent axillary tumour, and 85% sensitivity, 98% specificity and 90% accuracy for metastatic tumour. Soft tissue plaques were the commonest axillary disease pattern seen (37). Small volume soft tissue plaques gave the most diagnostic difficulty. Non-dynamic enhancement with intravenous Gadopentetate dimeglumine (Gd-DTPA) in a subset of 34 patients improved sensitivity for axillary tumour from 40 to 74%, and improved diagnostic confidence in 11 patients (32%). Magnetic resonance imaging had a positive management impact leading to treatment alteration in 45 patients, 43 of whom had recurrent axillary and/or metastatic tumour.


Tumour plaques were the commonest pattern of recurrent axillary disease. Forty-eight percent of the patients had metastatic deposits identified by MRI. Magnetic resonance imaging had excellent specificity (100%) and good sensitivity (89%) for recurrent axillary tumour compared with outcome at 1 year, which was improved by non-dynamic administration of Gd-DTPA in 32% of the subset who received it.

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