Breast MRI is a breast-imaging technique that uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed images of the organs and tissues within your body. The images taken capture multiple cross-sectional pictures of your breast. Breast MRI involves combining the images, using a computer to generate detailed 2-D and 3-D pictures. It is a non-invasive procedure that doctors can use to determine what the inside of the breast looks like. No radioactivity is involved, and the technique is believed to have no health hazards in general.
Breast MRI is not routinely used for breast cancer screening, but breast MRI is performed when your doctor needs more information than a mammogram, ultrasound or clinical breast exam can provide. A Breast MRI may be recommended if:
You've been diagnosed with breast cancer and your doctor wishes to determine the extent of the cancer.
You or your doctor can feel a mass or other lump in your breast, but it's not detectable on mammogram or ultrasound.
You notice a breast lump or other breast change after surgery or radiation therapy and it's not detectable on mammogram or ultrasound.
Your doctor wants to monitor your opposite breast after you've been newly diagnosed or treated for breast cancer in the other breast.
You have a suspected leak or rupture of a breast implant.
You're at high risk of breast cancer.
You have a strong family history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer.
You have very dense breast tissue and your prior breast cancer was not detected on mammogram.
You have a history of precancerous breast changes, a strong family history of breast cancer and dense breast tissue.
Preparing for a Breast MRI
You will need to have an order from your primary care physician for this test.
When scheduling the test, you will be given paperwork to fill out with screening and safety information specifically needed for this exam.
The doctor may want your kidney function tested beforehand by ordering a blood test if you are over 50. If you are premenopausal, we prefer to schedule your MRI at a certain point during your menstrual cycle—around day seven to 14. Let us know where you are in your cycle so that optimal timing for the MRI can be arranged. Also let us know if you are pregnant or think you could be pregnant.
For patients who are claustrophobic, please contact your ordering physician. She or he may be able to prescribe something for this.
You will be asked to undress completely except for your panties and socks. Please eat and drink as usual. If you are anxious, bring someone to drive you to and from your appointment.
The technologist will place an intravenous line (IV) in your arm prior to taking you into the MRI room. This will be used to inject a contrast material during the procedure.
The Breast MRI Exam
The MRI machine has a large, central opening. During the breast MRI, you lie face down on a special padded scanning table. Your breasts will be placed into hollow depressions in the table, which contain coils that detect magnetic signals from the MRI machine. The entire table then slides into the opening of the machine.
The MRI machine creates a magnetic field around you, and radio waves are directed at your body. You will not feel the magnetic field or radio waves, but you may hear loud tapping and thumping sounds coming from inside the machine. Because of this, you will be given earplugs and head phones to wear.
During the exam, a contrast agent (dye) will be injected into your veins through the IV in your arm to enhance the appearance of tissues or blood vessels for the MRI pictures.
The technologist will monitor you from another room. You can speak to the technologist through a microphone and you also will have a hand-held alarm to alert the technologist of a problem you may be experiencing. You will be instructed to breathe normally but to lie as still as possible.
The breast MRI appointment may take up to one hour.