Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, produces images using a strong magnet and radio waves.
There are several reasons why your doctor may request a breast MRI:
- High-risk patient – a woman with more than a 20% lifetime risk of breast cancer as indicated by genetic testing and/or family history
- History of radiation to the chest wall
- Hodgkin’s disease
- Patient with a new diagnosis of breast cancer
- Screening of the opposite breast in a patient with a new breast cancer
- Evaluating the extent of disease in a patient with a new breast cancer
- Silicone implants in a patient with suspected rupture (or in addition to mammography when mammography is difficult)
- Proven breast cancer that has metastasized to a lymph node or elsewhere in the body with a normal mammogram
- Evaluation of chemotherapy response
Although a breast MRI is a highly-accurate test for the detection of breast cancer, especially for patients with very dense breast tissue, it should not take the place of mammography for standard screenings.
For your safety
Breast MRIs are not for everyone. They cannot be performed if you have a pacemaker, defibrillator or other implanted electronic device. Tell your technologist and your doctor if you have any of these devices. In addition, tell your technologist and doctor if:
- You are pregnant or suspect you may be pregnant. Your doctor may postpone the exam or choose an alternative exam to reduce the possible risk of exposing your baby to radiation.
- You have any of the following:
- Eye implants or middle ear
- Metal implants
- Shrapnel or unremoved bullets
- Aneurysm clips
Your exam may require a contrast medium to create a better image. If you have allergies or asthma, there is a slight risk of an allergic reaction to the contrast. Most reactions result in itchiness or hives. If you have asthma and have an allergic reaction to the contrast medium, you may experience an asthma attack. In very rare instances, an allergic reaction may cause swelling in your throat or other areas of your body. Diabetes, heart disease, kidney problems or thyroid conditions also increase your risk of reaction to the contrast medium. Tell your technologist or doctor immediately if you experience any of these symptoms during or after your exam. Our staff and physicians are prepared should any type of emergency situation occur. If it is after hours, go immediately to the emergency room.
Preparing for a breast MRI
Prior to your scan, you will be asked to remove all metal or electronic objects from your body, including watches, jewelry and cell phones. These can interfere with the magnetic field and can be very dangerous if taken into the exam room.
What to expect during a breast MRI
A breast MRI is painless and generally takes 30 to 45 minutes, not including preparation time.
For the exam, you will be asked to lie on a movable table. A coil or small antenna-like device may be placed over the body part to be examined. Once you have been positioned, the technologist will move the table into the MRI scanner.
During the scan, the machine will make thumping and tapping sounds. This is normal and you will be given earplugs to help block the noise. You may wish to listen to music during your scan.
You may feel anxious due to the confining nature of the MRI scanner. If you feel this way, talk to your doctor. They may prescribe a sedative before your exam to help you relax.
During the scan you will be closely monitored and you will have a microphone that enables you to talk with the technologist at all times.
When your exam is complete, you can leave and resume regular activities. If a sedative was administered for your exam, you will need to arrange transportation home.
A radiologist will review your exam images and report the findings to your doctor. Your doctor will then discuss the findings and next steps with you.