MRI for Prostate: Everything You Need to Know

An MRI for prostate care and evaluation is a non-invasive imaging procedure that provides valuable information for diagnosis and treatment planning.

Prostate MRI is a key tool for early diagnosis, precise staging, and treatment planning for those struggling with prostate-related conditions.

If prostate cancer is detected, surgeons and radiation oncologists rely on MRI images to create detailed treatment plans that effectively target the cancerous tissue while minimizing damage to the surrounding healthy tissue.

What is an MRI of the Prostate?

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the prostate is a non-invasive imaging test using a strong magnetic field, radiofrequency pulses, and a computer to create detailed images of the prostate and its surrounding tissues.

This scan is typically used to evaluate the extent of the prostate cancer and determine whether it has metastasized (spread) and begun growing outside the walls of the prostate gland or into nearby structures (e.g., seminal vesicles, bladder). It is generally safe and painless and does not use radiation.

What Are Some Common Reasons to Get an MRI for Prostate?

Your doctor may refer you for an MRI of the prostate gland for several reasons, such as:

  • Elevated PSA Levels
    Men aged 55 and older should get their prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels checked every two to three years. This simple blood test checks prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels. Elevated PSA levels may indicate a prostate gland issue.

    An MRI for prostate screening is recommended to help your doctor determine your prostate gland's and surrounding tissue's health and check for abnormalities, like cancer.
  • Prostate Cancer
    If you or your doctor suspects prostate cancer based on symptoms like difficulty urinating, frequent urination, blood in the urine, or abnormal findings during a digital rectal exam (DRE), an MRI can help detect and stage the cancer.

    MRI images can also help monitor prostate cancer and guide biopsy procedures.

  • Other Prostate Conditions
    MRIs may sometimes be used to examine the overall health of your prostate gland and look for non-cancerous conditions like benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) or prostatitis.

Is an MRI for Prostate Painful or Uncomfortable?

An MRI scan is a safe and painless procedure. Local anesthesia (painkilling medication) is not typically needed. However, if you are claustrophobic, you can ask for a sedative to help you relax.

Please talk to your provider well in advance of the day of your scan to arrange for sedation as part of your prostate MRI preparation.

Most MRI scans take between 30 and 45 minutes, and having to lie still for the procedure may cause discomfort or pain, especially if you have had any recent injuries or surgeries.

During the procedure, you may experience a slight twitching sensation. This occurs when the magnetic field stimulates nerves in your body. This is normal and nothing to worry about.

What Do I Need to Do for Prostate MRI Preparation?

The good news is prostate MRI preparation is easy—no special preparations are needed. You can continue eating, drinking, and taking medications as usual.

Before the procedure, your technician may ask whether you have metal implants (e.g., artificial joints or electronic devices). If so, you may not be eligible for an MRI as it can cause harm or damage during the procedure.

For your safety, you will also be asked to remove all jewelry and empty your pockets before entering the scan room.

If you do not like small, confined spaces or feel claustrophobic, please ask your technologist about possible accommodations.

How is an MRI of the Prostate Done?

When you enter the scan room, you will be asked to lie on a table attached to the MRI machine. Next, your radiologist or technologist may insert a small needle into a vein in your arm or hand, allowing them to administer the following medications.

  • Sedatives
    To help you feel relaxed and sleepy during the procedure.
  • Buscopan
    To reduce movement in the bowel to ensure clearer images.
  • Gadolinium (a contrast medium)
    To highlight any cancer present in the prostate gland. Not all imaging centers will use a contrast medium.

You will then be moved into the MRI tube and asked to remain completely still.

What Is the Difference Between MRI Prostate With and Without Contrast?

Sometimes, your doctor may order an injection of MRI contrast (gadolinium) through a vein in your hand or wrist. This chemical helps show the condition of your organs and blood vessels very clearly and highlights certain diseases more clearly than with an MRI alone.

Contrast dye allows physicians to make more accurate diagnoses with fewer tests, saving time and money. Contrast MRIs are also used to monitor the progression or regression of certain illnesses over time.

However, contrast dye may not always be the best option, especially if you have pre-existing kidney disease or poor kidney function. Those with kidney issues may not be able to tolerate the contrast dye, leading to a sudden decrease in renal function.

Are There Any Risks Associated With the MRI Procedure?

MRI scans do not use radiation, so there is no risk of radiation exposure. However, the strong magnetic field cannot be performed on patients with

  • Pacemakers
  • Intracranial aneurysm clips
  • Cochlear implants
  • Prosthetics
  • Insulin or other infusion pumps
  • Iron-based implants
  • Internal metallic objects (e.g., bullets, shrapnel, surgical clips, plates, screws, metal sutures, or wire mesh)

If a contrast dye is used, there is an added risk of allergic reaction. If you are allergic or sensitive to medications, contrast dyes, iodine, or shellfish, alert your imaging center before your appointment.

MRI scans may also negatively impact those with asthma, allergies, anemia, low blood pressure, and sickle cell disease. If you have one or more of these conditions, please alert your imaging center before your appointment so they can take the necessary precautions.

Is There an Age Limit for Undergoing an MRI for the Prostate?

The American Urologic Association recommends beginning prostate MRI screenings at age 55 for men with an average risk of prostate cancer. Screening is generally not recommended for men over 75, as the potential risks outweigh the benefits.

What Does MRI Equipment Look Like?

Valley Radiology offers two types of MRI machines: traditional (closed) bore and wide bore.

A traditional (closed) bore MRI machine is a large, closed, cylindrical (tube-shaped) equipment. Once inside the tube, this closed machine creates a strong magnetic field around the patient and sends pulses of radio waves from a scanner. It is more effective at diagnosing a more extensive range of health problems because it can create a stronger magnetic field and achieve higher-quality images.

A wide bore MRI machine is the same as a traditional bore MRI, but with a larger opening. It is more accommodating for patients prone to claustrophobia or with a larger body type.

What Can I Expect From a Prostate MRI?

Prostate MRI provides information on how water molecules and blood flow through the prostate. This scan helps determine whether cancer is present and (if so) whether it has spread from the prostate to other places in the body.

A prostate MRI scan can be used both before and after diagnosis and may be used to help guide treatment.

Proper treatment planning is essential if you or a loved one is diagnosed with prostate cancer. Prostate MRIs provide doctors with precise and detailed information about your tumor's size, location, and aggressiveness. This information is extremely valuable for determining whether radiation therapy or surgery is needed.

How Long Does a Prostate MRI Take?

When you arrive at Valley Radiology for your prostate MRI, please plan on being at our facility for about 90 minutes.

This timing includes the time needed for check-in, scanning, and discharge. You will only be inside the MRI machine for about 30 minutes. Active scanning will take about 25 minutes, with five left for entering and exiting the machine.

How Long Does It Take to Receive MRI Results?

Once the results of your prostate MRI have been reviewed and the report has been dictated by the radiologist, it will be sent to your referring provider. If you haven't heard from your provider's office within one to two weeks after your MRI, it's advisable to contact them.

What Is Aftercare Like Following an MRI for Prostate Cancer?

No recovery period or aftercare procedures are necessary if you have not been sedated. You may resume all normal activities and diet immediately following the exam.

If you had contrast dye during your prostate MRI scan, there is a small risk of allergic reactions, including hives, itchy eyes, or other similar responses. If you experience any allergic reaction, inform your radiologist or technologist immediately.

If you were sedated during the prostate MRI, you may feel drowsy for a while after the scan. You will not be able to drive home and will need someone to take you home.

What Are the Limitations of an MRI for Prostate Cancer?

MRI for the prostate gland is one of the most effective ways to diagnose, manage, and treat prostate cancer. However, there are some limitations to consider.

  • High-quality images depend on your ability to remain still and hold your breath when requested.
  • Closed MRI machines have a weight limit. If you are above the weight limit, you may need to use an open MRI machine instead.
  • Implants and other metallic objects make it difficult to get clear images.
  • An irregular heartbeat may also affect the quality of images.
  • MRI images cannot always distinguish between cancer and inflammation or the presence of blood products in the prostate.
  • A prostate MRI cannot detect whether prostate cancer has spread to other organs outside the pelvis. If you are high-risk, you may also need a CT scan to detect whether cancer has spread to other areas of the body,

Advancements in MRI Technology

Recent advancements in prostate MRI technologies have greatly improved the accuracy and effectiveness of the procedure, making it even more valuable for safe prostate care. They include:

  • Multiparametric MRI (mpMRI)
    This combines multiple imaging techniques to provide a more comprehensive view of the prostate and helps radiologists and technologists better differentiate between cancerous and benign tissue within the prostate.
    • T2-weighted imaging—to enhance the signal of water within the prostate.
    • Diffusion-weighted imaging—to better differentiate benign and malignant tumors
    • Dynamic contrast-enhanced imaging—to aid in the detection, localization, staging, and aggressiveness of the tumor as well as treatment response.
  • 3T MRI Scanners
    These scanners offer more magnetic field strength than traditional 1.5T scanners. This increased field strength delivers higher-quality images faster and with more clarity.

Explaining MRI of the Prostate for Active Surveillance

Low-risk prostate cancer often grows slowly or not at all. As a result, active surveillance is usually sufficient treatment. In this approach, the tumor is regularly monitored using an MRI of the prostate and only treated if it grows.

Regular MRI scans allow doctors to track tumor size and aggressiveness changes, helping guide their treatment decisions. It also allows patients to avoid unnecessary treatments if the cancer remains inactive.

We Prioritize Your Patient Experience and Comfort

The radiologists at our MRI Centers in Fayetteville and Angier, NC, encourage you to get regular check-ups and prostate screenings, including PSA tests and digital rectal exams, to help detect potential issues early and get the treatment you need.

If you need a prostate MRI, we want you to know we prioritize your comfort and safety. As mentioned above, you may request sedation if you need help relaxing or experience claustrophobia in small, enclosed spaces. We also offer noise-canceling headphones, headphones to listen to music, and blankets to keep you warm and relaxed during the scan.

MRI for prostate care and evaluation is a valuable diagnostic tool offering non-invasive and safe ways to assess the health of your prostate gland and surrounding tissues. This imaging procedure is crucial in early diagnosis, precise staging, and informed treatment planning for prostate cancer and other prostate-related health conditions.

Despite certain limitations and potential risks, prostate MRI remains one of the most effective tools for enhancing patient care and improving health outcomes.