A study looking at magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to help diagnose breast cancer (COMICE)

Cancer type:

Breast cancer





This study aimed to find out if magnetic resonance imaging can provide doctors with useful additional information when planning a person's breast cancer surgery. This might prevent the need for a second operation to remove tumour left behind at the time of initial surgery. The study also looked at the cost of using MRI scans in this way and whether this can be justified.

There are a number of tests to diagnose breast cancer. Doctors use mammograms, breast ultrasounds, fine needle aspirates or needle biopsies (core biopsies). Occasionally, these tests cannot tell the doctors enough about the extent of a woman’s breast cancer before surgery takes place. So some women may then need a second operation to make sure all the cancer has been removed.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is another way of diagnosing cancer. When this trial started, doctors did not know how useful this information would be in deciding the type and extent of breast surgery required. In this study, doctors compared MRI with standard mammogram and breast ultrasound tests that women have before surgery.

The aim of this study was to find out if MRI could provide extra information for doctors before surgery.

Summary of results

The researchers in this trial found that having an MRI did not reduce the number of women who went on to have a repeat operation to remove more cancer. They thought that this was due to it being difficult for the surgeons to make use of the 3 dimensional (3-D) information produced by the MRI scans. Very early research in this trial looking into MRI scans suggested that MRI may be better at finding additional areas of tumour within both the affected and the other breast than mammography and ultrasound.

1, 623 women with breast cancer took part in this trial. All patients had a standard mammogram and breast ultrasound.

  • Half also had an MRI
  • Half did not have an MRI

The researchers analysed the results in 2008. They looked at the number of women who needed to have a repeat operation. There was no difference between the 2 groups. The researchers say that the cost of having an MRI cannot be justified as a part of planning for breast cancer surgery.

We have based this summary on information from the team who ran the trial. The information they sent us has been reviewed by independent specialists (peer reviewed Open a glossary item) and published in a medical journal. The figures we quote above were provided by the trial team. We have not analysed the data ourselves.

Recruitment start:

Recruitment end:

How to join a clinical trial

Please note: In order to join a trial you will need to discuss it with your doctor, unless otherwise specified.

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Chief Investigator

Professor Lindsay Turnbull

Supported by

Hull and East Yorkshire NHS Trust
NIHR Health Technology Assessment (HTA) programme
National Institute for Health Research Cancer Research Network (NCRN)

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Last review date

CRUK internal database number:

Oracle 297

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Harriet wanted to try new treatments

Picture of Harriet

“I was keen to go on a clinical trial. I wanted to try new cancer treatments and hopefully help future generations.”

Last reviewed:

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