Breast MRI: What to Expect

According to the American Cancer Society, U.S. women have a 13% risk of developing breast cancer sometime in their life.

An MRI breast screening is recommended for women with a high risk of breast cancer—along with a yearly mammogram. Factors associated with an increased risk of breast cancer include

  • A personal history of breast conditions
  • A personal history of breast cancer
  • A family history of breast cancer
  • Inherited genes that increase cancer risk (e.g., BRCA1 and BRCA2)
  • Repeated exposure to radiation
  • Obesity
  • Beginning menstruation at a younger age
  • Beginning menopause at an older age
  • Having your first child after the age of 30
  • Having never been pregnant
  • Having dense breast tissue
  • Postmenopausal hormone therapy

What Is a Breast MRI?

A breast MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) uses a strong magnetic field and pulses of radio waves to make detailed images of the inside of the breast.

It is commonly used as a diagnostic tool to supplement annual mammograms and breast ultrasounds for women with a 20% or greater lifetime risk of breast cancer. It is also used to detect (or rule out) breast cancer and other problems inside the breast.

Is There a Difference Between a Standard Breast MRI and a Dense Breast MRI?

While both standard breast MRI and dense breast MRI involve magnetic resonance imaging technology to produce high-quality, clear images, dense breast MRIs are tailored to employ specific techniques for dense breast tissue.

These techniques are specifically designed for women with dense breast tissue, address the unique challenges posed by dense breast tissue, and improve the accuracy of an MRI for breast cancer detection.

Your radiologist or technologist will help you decide whether a standard or dense breast MRI is right for you.

What Does a Breast MRI Show?

An MRI breast scan is also beneficial for detecting

  • Small breast lesions that are sometimes missed by mammography
  • Breast cancer in women with breast implants
  • Breast cancer in younger women with dense breast tissue

What Organs Does a Breast MRI Show?

A breast MRI scan primarily focuses on the mammary glands (milk-producing glands in the breast) and axillary (underarm) nodes. However, it also shows other internal organs and structures, including

  • Lungs
  • Mediastinum (area of the chest containing the heart, major blood vessels, esophagus, trachea)
  • Upper abdomen
  • Bony thorax (bones that form the ribs, sternum, and thoracic vertebrae)

How Long Does a Breast MRI Take?

An MRI breast scan takes approximately 25 minutes, but plan on being at the facility for about an hour.

At Valley Radiology in Fayetteville and Angier, NC, your comfort is our top priority. During the exam, you may hear loud noises coming from the machine. If this is a concern, our medical staff has noise-canceling headphones or headphones for music available for use during your procedure. 

How Is a Breast MRI Done?

You lie down on a padded scanning table during the breast MRI procedure. Your breasts fit into a hollow depression in the table so they can be scanned without being compressed. Once you are comfortable, the table will slide into the open tube of the MRI machine.

You must remain still during the procedure and hold your breath for a few seconds at a time, as requested. These steps help ensure high-quality, clear images, which help your doctor or specialists assess the health of your breasts.

If your doctor recommends a breast MRI with contrast dye, your technologist will insert a small IV into your hand or wrist. They inject the contrast dye into your vein to help create more explicit images that outline abnormalities more easily.

If you have asthma or a history of allergic reactions to contrast materials, please alert your technologist before your MRI appointment.

Should I Have a Breast MRI With Contrast?

A diagnostic breast MRI usually requires contrast dye, especially if you are looking for possible breast cancer, abnormalities, or other breast conditions.

If an MRI of the breast is performed to determine if you have a ruptured breast implant, you will not need contrast material. However, a breast MRI without contrast is not recommended if you have any other breast concerns.

Breast MRI with contrast is the best way to diagnose (or rule out) breast cancer because it highlights any abnormal areas in the breast.

If you are breastfeeding and concerned about using contrast dye during your procedure, please talk to one of our skilled specialists. We can assess your unique case and help you make the safest decision for you and your baby.

Breast MRIs help detect and diagnose breast cancer, especially for women at a higher risk.

Ask your doctor or specialist to refer you to Valley Radiology for our comprehensive MRI services. Our radiologists are board-certified, fellowship-trained, and compassionate.

Your health, safety, and comfort are our top priorities . If it has been recommended that you have a comprehensive MRI, please contact Valley Radiology in Fayetteville and Angier, NC, to learn how to schedule today.

Please note that a doctor’s referral is required for a breast MRI and all other services except for mammogram.