Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) of the Breast

What is a Breast MRI ?

Breast MRI

Breast MRI is a non-invasive procedure that physicians can use to determine what the inside of the breast looks like. MRI uses a large magnet, radio waves and a computer to scan your breasts and produce particularly clear pictures that cannot be seen on conventional X-rays. The detection of breast cancer can often be made through an MRI without subjecting the patient to compression techniques of mammography or to unnecessary biopsies.

The above picture is an example of a Breast MRI. The patient had a large mass in the posterior aspect of her right breast. MRI was able to diagnose a second lesion in her right axilla/chest wall, which was helpful to her referring physician.

Who should have a Breast MRI ?

Breast MRI is currently not recommended for routine screening. It is usually used for evaluating high-risk patients who have dense breasts, patients with a strong family or genetic history (BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes) of breast disease, and for clarification of inconclusive findings from other detection techniques. Additional established applications for breast MRI include: staging of breast cancer, searching for primary breast cancer in patients with metastatic lymphadenopathy, evaluation of patients post chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy and evaluation of breast implants.

Doctor Examining Breast MRI

How will the exam be performed ?

Prior to being placed in the MRI machine, a radiology nurse will start an IV in your arm. A contrast agent called gadolinium will be administered through the IV, shortly after the exam begins. The contrast agent is salt based and generally has no side effects. If you have allergies to certain medications, you should make your physician aware, prior to scheduling the study.

You will be positioned in a coil, lying on your stomach, with your breasts hanging down in the coil opening. This position alleviates the feeling of claustrophobia, since you can look out into the room. You will be wearing a gown at all times.

During the exam you will hear loud banging noises coming from the machine. This is normal. You may bring your favorite CD to listen to or you will be offered earplugs.

The MRI exam takes approximately 25 minutes to create the images. The whole procedure including having the IV placed and being put into proper position in the MRI machine takes approximately 45-60 minutes.

Who will be reading my Breast MRI ?

At the Barnabas Health Ambulatory Care Center, there are radiologists who are breast intervention physicians, who read all the breast MRI examinations. We use a combination of MRI, mammography, ultrasound, stereotactic breast biopsy and breast cyst aspiration to diagnose patients. In the year 2001, we began a dedicated plan to integrate MRI into our breast diagnostic services and to have breast MRI’s read by breast interventional physicians and radiologists familiar with breast diseases.