Breast MRI is a highly sensitive, non-invasive procedure that examines the breast. Magnetic Resonance Imaging, commonly known as MRI, creates hundreds of images using magnetic fields and radio signals.

How is a breast MRI different from a mammogram?
Traditional mammography is the standard for breast cancer detection, a breast MRI should not be a substitute for your normal yearly mammogram. However, a breast MRI can help detect and determine the stage of breast cancer. While mammograms use x-rays to generate images, breast MRIs do not and do not require compression.

Sometimes, an MRI can detect small breast lesions that might be missed on a mammogram. However, MRI cannot always distinguish between cancer and benign breast diseases, such as fibro-adenomas, leading to false positive results. Because of this, mammography remains the standard for breast cancer diagnosis and detection.

Who should have a breast MRI?
While mammography is the standard for breast cancer detection, some women might benefit from breast MRI. For example, women with dense breasts may benefit from a breast MRI. Other factors include:

  • High-risk patients: The American Cancer Society guidelines recommend an annual MRI, as well as a mammogram for women who are at high risk of developing breast cancer. Heightened risk can be from a family history of breast cancer or other genetic factors, such as:
    • BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation
    • First-degree relative with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation
    • Radiation treatment to the chest before age 30
    • Li-Fraumeni, Cowden or Bannayan-Riley-Ruvalcaba syndrome (or a TP53 or PTEN gene mutation)
    • ATM, CHEK2 or PALB2 gene mutation
    • A greater than 20% lifetime risk of invasive breast cancer
  • Breast cancer diagnosis: Women who have had cancer diagnosed in one breast should get a breast MRI to further evaluate both breasts.
  • Newly diagnosed: MRI can help determine the extent and stage of breast cancer and assist in choosing the best treatment options.
  • Monitoring therapy: Breast MRIs may also help monitor patients for response to treatment and to evaluate recurrent breast cancer.
  • Implant status: This study is also recommended for women with breast implants to evaluate both the implant and the breast.

Breast MRI for implant integrity
While breast MRIs are commonly used for cancer detection, they can also be used for tracking breast implant integrity. Silicone gel breast implants have long been determined safe by the FDA. However, because gel implants are thicker than saline, imaging is needed to determine the implant integrity. Currently, the FDA recommends an MRI 3 years after implantation and every 2 years to screen for implant integrity.

Providers also use breast MRI to determine if an implant has ruptured. Typically, when saline implants rupture, a woman may notice a decrease in breast size, change in breast implant shape, hard lumps over the implant or chest area, an uneven appearance of the breasts, pain or tenderness, tingling, swelling, numbness, burning or changes in sensation. However, if a silicone gel-filled implant ruptures, a woman may notice because of the denser gel material. This is called a “silent rupture.” MRI is the most effective method for detecting a silent rupture of silicone gel-filled breast implants.

How to prepare for a breast MRI
MRI exams are common studies that typically do not require special preparation. Here are some things to remember before your MRI:

  • Bring a copy of the order for the procedure from your referring physician, a photo ID card and your insurance card.
  • Take your usual medications prior to your exam.
    Wear comfortable, loose clothing. Sometimes, you may be asked to change into a gown.
  • Before entering the MRI room you must remove ALL metallic objects including guns, hearing aids, dentures, partial plates, keys, beeper, cell phone, eyeglasses, hair pins, barrettes, jewelry, body piercing jewelry, watch, safety pins, paperclips, money clip, credit cards, bank cards, magnetic strip cards, coins, pens, pocket knife, nail clippers, tools, clothing with metal fasteners and clothing with metallic threads.
  • Notify the technologist if you have any implanted electronic pacemaker, pump, stimulator or other device.
  • The MRI system has a very strong magnetic field that is always on. Improper entry to the MRI scanning room may result in serious injury or death. Do not enter the MRI scanning room without the permission of the MRI technologist or Radiologist. Do not enter the MRI room if you have any question or concern regarding the safety of an implant or device.

What to expect during a breast MRI
An MRI machine is a large cylindrical magnet. When you enter the MRI room, you will be asked to lie down on a bed, and the machine will move you and the bed into position, depending on the type of exam needed. During a breast MRI, you will be asked to be still for the duration of your scan, typically 20-45 minutes. Movement can blur the images and produce a lower-quality scan. The MRI machine can be loud, and you will hear loud tapping or thumping during the exam. Earplugs or earphones will be provided to you, and you can communicate with the technician through a microphone in the machine.

When your examination is over, you may resume your normal daily activities unless otherwise instructed by your doctor. One of our board-certified radiologists will review the images and send a report to your doctor.

What if I’m claustrophobic?
An MRI is painless. However, some claustrophobic patients may experience a “closed in” feeling when placed in the magnet. If this is a concern, please let us know prior to your appointment. Conscious sedation may be available depending on your preferred location.

Additionally, we offer both Open and Upright MRI at some locations. Open MRI, which does not completely surround the patient as with conventional MRI scanners, may be used to accommodate claustrophobic, obese or pediatric patients. Upright MRI, which allows imaging of a patient in an upright position, may be used to accommodate those who are claustrophobic, obese, or have a particular injury, making traditional MRI imaging difficult. If you are interested in either our Open or Upright MRIs, let us know when scheduling your appointment.

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