Breast magnetic resonance imaging characteristics in women with occult primary breast carcinoma

Sivan Lieberman*, Tamar Sella, Bella Maly, Jacob Sosna, Beatrice Uziely, Miri Sklair-Levy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Background: Occult breast cancer without clinically or mammographically detectable breast tumor is an uncommon presentation. Objective: To assess the role of breast MRI in women with metastatic carcinoma and an occult primary and to define the MRI characteristics of the primary breast tumor. Methods: This retrospective study evaluated 20 women with metastatic carcinoma of unknown origin who underwent breast MRI between 2000 and 2006. Four women were excluded, leaving 16 in the study group. Probability of malignancy was assessed according to BIRADS classification. MRI performance in dtecting lesions and evaluating diseas extent was assessed, with the gold standard being surgical or biopsy pathology. Results: MRI detected suspicious lesions in 15 patients. Lesion size ranged from 0.4 to 7 cm (median 1.5 cm). MRI detected a singloe lesion in 6 patients (40%), multifocal disease in 3 (20%), multicentric disease in 4 (27%), and bilateral breast lesions in 2 (13%). In. 13 patients MRI depicted the primary breast cancer. Initial treatment was surgical in 9; MRI correctly estimated disease extent in 6 (67%), underestimated disease extent in 1 (11%), and overestimated it in 2 (22%). Four patients had biopsy followed by chemotherapy; one had multicentric disease and one had multifocal disease. MR findings were false positive in two patients and false negative in one. Conclusions: MRI is sensitive in detecting the primary tumor and beneficial in assessing tumor extent. Small size and multiple foci are common features. We suggest that bilateral breast MRI be part of the evaluation of women with metastatic carcinoma and an occult primary.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)448-452
Number of pages5
JournalIsrael Medical Association Journal
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Biopsy
  • Breast cancer
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Occult primary tumor


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