Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) generates high-definition visual representations of your tissues and organs by combining a magnetic field and computer-generated radio waves. It is a highly effective resource for detecting cancers and other medical abnormalities.

A typical MRI machine is a cylindrical magnet through which the patient is passed. The machine creates clear, three-dimensional images of the patient's internal anatomy.

While a breast MRI isn’t necessary for everyone, there are certain circumstances where it might be the appropriate medical imaging tool.

Why would I need a breast MRI?

A breast MRI can identify potential cancers in breast tissue that can be missed by other imaging tools like mammography or ultrasound. It is particularly useful for patients who have a family history of breast cancer  or are at risk because of the following:

  • A BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. Women with one of these genetic mutations are at high risk for breast cancer (BRCA2 mutations can also put women at risk for ovarian cancer).
  • A first-degree relative with breast cancer. A first-degree relative is a parent, child, or sibling diagnosed with breast cancer.
  • Previous repeated radiation exposure. Women who have undergone chest radiation treatment for a medical condition such as Hodgkin lymphoma, lung cancer, or esophageal cancer.
  • Certain genetic disorders. Women diagnosed with Bannayan-Riley-Ruvalcaba syndrome (BRRS), Cowden syndrome, or Li-Fraumeni syndrome (LFS) or have a family history of the disorders.
  • Dense breast tissue. For women with particularly dense breast tissue, an MRI might be the most appropriate screening tool as the technology can identify tiny lesions and lesions located in places that a mammogram might miss. It is also sometimes recommended for women with breast implants.

What does a breast MRI do?

A breast MRI involves passing through a large magnetic imaging machine shaped like a tube. You will be instructed to lie face down on a table and insert your breasts through openings that contain imaging equipment. When you pass through the tube, the equipment generates magnetic fields that capture numerous 3-D images of your breasts.

The process can be uncomfortable for some, particularly those who are claustrophobic or experience pain while lying on their stomachs for extended periods. Your doctor will provide you with sedatives if needed.

A breast MRI isn’t appropriate for every patient; your doctor will discuss your options with you in detail during your consultation.

How do I prepare for a breast MRI?

Your doctor will provide you with detailed instructions prior to your appointment. You will likely be asked to do the following:

  • Discuss any allergies or sensitivities. Let your doctor know if you are allergic to any substances. You might need to have a contrast medium (dye) injected before the screening.
  • Remove all body piercings. Jewelry can interfere with imaging technology.
  • Alert your doctor to implants, plates, pins, or surgical staples. Again, these can interfere with the readings. The same goes for any internal metal fragments from impact injuries or bullet wounds.
  • Tell your doctor if you are pregnant or think you might be pregnant. While there aren’t any proven risks for the mother or child during a breast MRI, the contrast medium isn’t recommended for pregnant women.

If you are sensitive to loud noises, you can ask the technician to provide earplugs.

How long does a breast MRI take?

The entire appointment typically takes approximately one hour. However, if you were sedated, you will be asked to rest at the facility until the sedation wears off.

Does a breast MRI have any risks?

A breast MRI itself doesn’t carry any medical risks. However, if you require sedatives during the procedure, have someone drive you home from your appointment. If you were administered a contrast dye, you might be monitored afterward for signs of an allergic response or other reactions.

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