Breast MRI

What is Breast MRI?

Breast MRI is a magnetic resonance imaging exam of the breast. Since MRI visualizes internal tissues in ways that complement the capabilities of other imaging methods, such as mammography (which is X-ray-based) and breast ultrasound, MRI has become increasingly important as in breast imaging for diagnostic and screening purposes. An important strength that MRI adds to breast diagnosis and screening is the ability to generate highly detailed image “slices” of breast tissue at different depths.

Doctors may recommend breast MRI for women as a:

  • Screening to supplement the annual mammogram—breast MRI can be an especially important adjunct screening for women with dense breast tissue, which makes breast cancer harder to see in a mammogram, or who have other factors that increase their lifetime breast cancer risk.
  • Follow-up diagnostic exam after a mammogram that is inconclusive or shows one or more areas of suspicious tissue.
  • Post-procedure assessment for patients who have received breast cancer treatment, such as a lumpectomy or chemotherapy.
  • Your doctor may order a “breast MRI with contrast.” This means that you would be injected with or asked to swallow a material to make the breast tissue more visible in MRI images.
  • If an injected contrast material is needed, an IV may be inserted in your hand or arm prior to test.
  • During the exam, you will lie facedown on a special table designed for breast MRI exams. The table includes an opening for the breasts, which better exposes the tissue for scanning at different depths. Your technologist will help position you on the table and help you get as comfortable as possible.
  • While the scanner is operating, it is important to lie still. MRI scans usually require more than one “sequence” of images to be taken. Between sequences, your technologist will let you know when you are able to move slightly. Each sequence can take from approximately 2–15 minutes.
  • The technologist will need to leave the room briefly to start the imaging sequences, but will remain in visual and verbal communication with you throughout the exam.
  • The entire exam should last approximately 15–45 minutes.

Learn More

For more information about breast MRI and its applications, visit the Breast MRI page on Radiology Info.