What is breast MRI?

MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. MRI is a non-invasive way to image the breasts. Unlike mammography, MRI does not use any radiation. Instead, MRI uses a powerful magnetic field, radiofrequency pulses and a computer to produce images of the breast. MRI provides a 10 to 100 times greater contrast between breast tissues than an X-ray, enabling the radiologist to see the inside breast tissue side-to-side, front-to back, and top-to-bottom.

How do I prepare for the exam?

In most cases, you can just stick with your normal, everyday routine - no special preparation is needed. You can eat and drink your usual diet, work, or play sports, and take any prescription medications you need. However, there may be some circumstances in which you'll be given specific instructions to follow before the exam. These will be given to you by your doctor, or by our clinic staff at the time the MRI is scheduled.

When you arrive for your exam, you will be asked to change into scrubs that we will provide for your comfort and convenience during the examination.

How long does a breast MRI take?

A typical breast MRI includes about 25 to 30 minutes of scan time. Total time from intake to completion is about an hour.

Will the breast MRI hurt?

We make every effort to make you comfortable for your breast MRI. The test itself should not cause any pain, although some people do find it uncomfortable to lie on their stomachs.

How will I be positioned for my breast MRI?

You will lie on your stomach with your arms at your sides on a padded table. Your breasts will hang in a natural position through two openings in the breast coil, which acts like an antenna. An adjustable headrest and padding under your ankles help to make you more comfortable.

What is it like inside the machine?

The MRI machine is quite loud. You will be given headphones to help block out the noise. This will also allow the technologist to communicate with you. Some patients note that they feel warm in the area being scanned.

Do I have to get an injection?

Yes. It is necessary to inject an MRI contrast material (called gadolinium) in order to highlight abnormal tissues such as breast cancers.

Can I have an MRI instead of a mammogram?

No. Breast MRI is meant to be used in conjunction with mammography, not in place of it. Mammography detects some cancers that MRI may miss.

What are the benefits to breast MRI?

There is no radiation involved. Breast MRI has been shown to help detect small breast cancers that may be missed by mammography or ultrasound. MRI can successfully image dense breasts common in younger women.

Are there any contraindications to breast MRI?

Yes. As with any MRI, certain health conditions may preclude you from having an MRI. These include the presence of a pacemaker or defibrillator, inner ear implants, metal fragments in the eyes, or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. You will be asked these and other screening questions on the phone prior to your MRI and again when you arrive for your test.

Will I have any side-effects from the MRI?

No. After the MRI you may resume your normal activities.

How accurate is breast MRI?

Breast MRI is very sensitive for most cancers, with some exceptions, such as low-grade DCIS. Some benign conditions such as fibrocystic disease can look like cancer. Hormones can also affect the results of the test. This is why we ask questions about menstrual cycle and hormone therapies prior to your study.

I’ve already been diagnosed with breast cancer. Why would I need a breast MRI?

You would need a breast MRI in order to:

  • Get additional information on a diseased breast to make treatment decisions
  • Determine whether the cancer has spread further in the breast or into the chest wall
  • Assess multiple tumor locations, especially prior to breast conservation surgery and/or partial breast irradiation
  • Assess the opposite breast for tumors
  • Assess how well chemotherapy is working
  • Distinguish between scar tissue and recurrent tumors

How do I know if I am a good candidate for a breast MRI?

Your physician can make the best determination regarding your need for a breast MRI. However, usually patients will fall into these categories:

  • Patients with recently diagnosed breast cancer for pre-op planning
  • Presence of a breast cancer mutation or untested first-degree relatives of proven BRCA carriers
  • Malignant axillary lymph nodes with unknown primary
  • Received radiation to the chest between ages 10 and 30
  • Lifetime risk of breast cancer scored at 20% or greater
  • If you are having a screening MRI, it is crucial that you are scanned between days 7-14 of your menstrual cycle if you are pre-menopausal.

How will I get the results of my breast MRI?

Your MRI will be read locally by a select group of board-certified radiologists. These physicians have extensive experience and training in breast imaging and intervention. Within 10 business days, the findings will be sent to your physician, who will communicate the results to you.
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