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Molecular Breast Imaging

Molecular breast imaging (MBI) is a new, FDA-cleared technology used for breast imaging as an adjunct to mammography. MBI identifies tumors in dense breast tissue that are often not visible with X-ray based analog or digital mammography.

What is MBI?

LumaGEMMBI overcomes a known shortcoming of X-ray mammography. The X-ray breast image is incapable of differentiating between tumors and dense breast tissue. On a mammogram, both appear white. This can make it very challenging for the breast specialist to interpret the image and find potential breast disease.

MBI technology is not X-ray based and, therefore, has no difficulty in obtaining an image in dense breast tissue. Here's why: With MBI, a woman is given an injection of a short-lived radioactive agent. This material accumulates in tumor cells more than it does in normal cells. Using LumaGEM™, the industry’s first commercially available, dual-head digital imaging system, tumors then show up as hot spots (white) on the resulting image.

In a recent Mayo Clinic study comparing MBI with mammography, MBI detected three times as many cancers in women with dense breast tissue and an increased risk of breast cancer.

Advantage Over Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI):

MBI also demonstrated fewer false positives (meaning the results appear abnormal, but are noncancerous) than MRI.

How Does It Work?

The LumaGEM MBI System is the first commercially available, FDA-cleared, planar, dual-head, fully solid state digital imaging system utilizing cadmium zinc telluride (CZT) technology used for breast imaging. This new technology provides high-quality images that assist your physician in making the most accurate diagnosis.

MBI procedure room at Mercy Medical CenterAn MBI scan with LumaGEM is quick and easy. With the dual-head configuration, LumaGEM can speed up the exam time as compared to its single-head competitors. A small amount of short half lived radioactive tracer (TC-99m Sestamibi) is injected into the patient, and within just 10 minutes after injection the scan can begin. The breast is imaged in the mammography standard CC (cranial caudal) as well as the MLO (mediolateral oblique) positions. This allows for easy comparison of the original mammogram images with the LumaGEM MBI images. Because each scan takes only minutes, the entire procedure can be completed in approximately 45 minutes and the images are immediately available for the physician’s interpretation. Most patients find the exam to be quite comfortable because, unlike mammography, LumaGEM requires only light, pain-free compression.

MBI Checklist

The following are criteria for women who may be at increased risk for breast cancer or who may be appropriate candidates for a molecular breast imaging exam:

  • Do you have a personal or family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer?
  • Are you between the ages of 20-50?
  • Have you been told that you have dense breasts?
  • Have you been tested and found to have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation?
  • Do you have a first-degree relative (parent, brother, sister or child) with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, and have not had genetic testing yourself?
  • Have you had radiation to the chest between the ages of 10-30?
  • Do you have Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Cowden syndrome, or Bannayan-Riley-Ruvalcaba syndrome, or have one of these syndromes in first-degree relatives?
  • Have you been told that you have a lifetime risk of breast cancer of 20% to 25% or greater, according to risk assessment tools based mainly on family history?
  • Have you been told that you are at moderately increased lifetime risk (15% to 20%) for developing breast cancer?

If you answered yes to any of the questions above, consult with a breast specialist to discuss your options in breast imaging. Contact Mercy Women’s Center at (319) 398-6690 for more information.

The History Behind Molecular Breast Imaging (MBI)

For all of the lives it saves, mammography still cannot detect the early onset of breast cancer in as many as one out of every four women ages 40 to 49. And, women with dense breast tissue are four to six times more likely to develop cancer than others. The follow video is presented by Deborah Rhodes, an expert at managing breast-cancer risk. She is the director of the Mayo Clinic’s Executive Health Program and has been instrumental in the success of MBI. Watch the video.



If the inability to pay prevents you or someone you know from seeking breast-care services, learn more about the Especially for You® Fund. It could be life-saving.

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