(Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Breast)En Español (Spanish Version)
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) involves the use of magnetic waves to make pictures of the inside of the body. An MRI uses a large magnet, radio waves, and a computer to produce two-dimensional and three-dimensional pictures. MRI of the breast is used to work with a mammography to detect breast cancer and other abnormalities of the breast. There is evidence that breast MRI can detect some lesions that may be missed by mammography.
Reasons for Procedure
Breast MRI can be used to:
- Evaluate breast abnormalities seen on mammography
- Identify breast abnormalities in women (and in some cases, men) with dense breast tissue, implants, or scar tissue
- Examine breast implants
- Examine scar tissue
- Evaluate the progress of breast cancer treatment
- Identify cysts, enlarged ducts, hematomas, or leaking or ruptured breast implants
- Distinguish between benign and malignant abnormalities
- Examine lymph nodes near the breast
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Risk Factors for Complications During the Procedure
You may not be able to have a breast MRI if you have any of the following in your body:
- Ear implant
- Metal clips in your eyes
- Implanted port device
- Intrauterine device (IUD)
- Metal plate, pins, screws, or surgical staples
- Metal clips from aneurysm repair
- Retained bullets
- Any other large metal objects
In addition, you should tell your doctor or the MRI technician if your job involves working with metal filings or particles.
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
Your doctor will likely do the following:
- Physical exam and medical history
- Pregnancy test
- Determine if you have any allergies
- Prescribe a mild sedative if you have anxiety or a fear of enclosed spaces
In the days leading up to your procedure:
- You may be asked to avoid using hair gel, spray, lotions, powders, and cosmetics before your MRI.
If your doctor prescribes a sedative:
- Arrange to have someone drive you to and from the procedure, and for help at home after your procedure.
- Take your sedative before the exam as directed by your doctor.
Once at the MRI center:
- You will be asked to remove any metal objects, such as jewelry, hairpins, hearing aids, glasses, wigs, and/or nonpermanent dentures.
No anesthesia is required. You may receive a mild sedative for anxiety or fear of enclosed spaces.
Description of the Procedure
You will lie face down on your stomach in a moveable bed that slides into a large, cylindrical-shaped magnet. Your breasts will hang into cushioned openings. You may be hooked up to monitors to track your pulse, heart rate, and breathing.
If the MRI will require contrasting dye (eg, Gadolinium), you will receive an intravenous line in your hand or arm through which a saline solution and contrasting dye will be injected during the exam.
The MRI technician will leave the room and give you any necessary directions via an intercom. A magnetic field will be produced to generate three-dimensional images of your breast tissue. If contrast material is used, a tumor, if present, will show up on the MRI scan.
After the Procedure
You will be asked to wait until the MRI images are examined to make sure no additional images are needed.
How Long Will It Take?
The procedure takes about 1½ hours.
Will It Hurt?
There is no pain reported with this procedure.
- Allergic reaction to contrast material, if it is injected
- Risks of sedation, if a sedative is used
Average Hospital Stay
You will be able to go home after the MRI examination.
- If you took a sedative, do not drive, operate machinery, or make important decisions until the sedative wears off completely.
- For those who are breast-feedings, if you received contrast dye, wait at least 24 hours after the exam to resume breast-feeding. Talk to your doctor about this.
The MRI images will be sent to a radiologist who will analyze them and report the results back to you and/or your primary physician.
American Cancer Society
National Cancer Institute
Canadian Cancer Society
National Cancer Institute of Canada
Heywang-Kobrunner SH, Viehweg P, Heinig A, Kuchler C. Contrast-enhanced MRI of the breast: accuracy, value, controversies, solutions. Eur J Radiol. 1997;24:94-108.
MR imaging (MRI)—breast. RadiologyInfo website. Available at: http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=breastmr&bhcp=1. Accessed May 21, 2007.
Shinil K, Shah BS, Shiwan K, Shah BS, Greatrex KV. J Am Board Fam Med. 2005;18(6):478-490.
What is Breast MRI? University of California at San Francisco website. Available at:
http://www.mrsc.ucsf.edu/breast/what_is_breast_mri.html. Accessed June 6, 2007.
Last reviewed April 2008 by Jill Landis, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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