According to the American Cancer Society, a Breast MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) uses radio waves and strong magnets to make detailed pictures of the inside of the breast. A Breast MRI is often used in women who already have been diagnosed with breast cancer, to help measure the size of the cancer, look for other tumors in the breast, and to check for tumors in the opposite breast.
For certain women at high risk for breast cancer, a screening MRI is recommended along with a yearly mammogram. MRI is not recommended as a screening test by itself because it can miss some cancers that a mammogram would find.
Although MRI can find some cancers not seen on a mammogram, it’s also more likely to find something that turns out not to be cancer (called a false positive). False-positive findings have to be checked out to know that cancer isn’t present. This can mean more tests and/or biopsies. This is why MRI is not recommended as a screening test for women at average risk of breast cancer, because it would result in unneeded biopsies and other tests for many of these women.
What you need to know about getting a breast MRI
Just as mammograms are done using x-ray machines specially designed for the breasts, breast MRI also requires special equipment. If you are having a screening MRI, it’s important to have it at a facility with dedicated equipment, like Texas Health Center for Diagnostics & Surgery, and that can do an MRI-guided breast biopsy (or partners with a facility that can). MRI uses strong magnets instead of radiation to make very detailed, cross-sectional pictures of the body. An MRI scan takes pictures from many angles, as if someone were looking at a slice of your body from the front, from the side, or from above your head. MRI creates pictures of soft tissue parts of the body that are sometimes hard to see using other imaging tests.
Tips for getting ready for the test
You don’t usually need a special diet or preparation before an MRI, but follow any instructions you’re given. If you have trouble with enclosed spaces: If being in an enclosed space is a problem for you (you have claustrophobia), you might need to take medicine to help you relax while in the scanner. Talking with the technologist, the radiologist, or getting a tour of the MRI machine before the test can also help. You’ll be in the exam room alone, but you can talk to the MRI technologist, who can see and hear what’s going on. In some cases, you may be able to have the test done with an open MRI machine that allows more space around your body.
Remove metal objects: Before the test, you'll be asked to undress and put on a gown or other clothes without zippers or metal. Be sure to remove any metal objects you can, like hair clips, jewelry, dental work, and body piercings.
If you have metal in your body: Before the scan, the technologist will ask you if you have any metal in your body. Some metallic objects will not cause problems, but others can.
If you have any of these types of medical implants, you should not even enter the MRI scanning area unless you're told it's OK to do so by a radiologist or technologist:
• An implanted defibrillator or pacemaker
• Clips used on a brain aneurysm
• A cochlear (ear) implant
• Metal coils inside blood vessels
What’s it like to get a breast MRI?
MRI (magnetic resonance imaging ) scans are usually done on an outpatient basis. You’ll lie face down on a narrow, flat table. Your breasts will hang down into an opening in the table so they can be scanned without being compressed. The technologist may use pillows to make you comfortable and help keep you from moving. The table then slides into the state of the art MRI machine.
The test is painless, but you have to lie still during the procedure. You may be asked to hold your breath or keep very still during certain parts of the test. The machine may make loud, thumping, clicking, and whirring noises, much like the sound of a washing machine, as the magnet switches on and off. Our hospital offers headphones with music to help you relax and block noise out during testing.
The most useful MRI exams for breast imaging use a contrast material that’s injected into a vein in the arm during the exam. This helps to clearly show any abnormal breast tissue. The contrast material used for an MRI exam is called gadolinium. (It’s not the same as the contrast dye used in CT scans.) Let the technologist know if you have any kind of allergies or have had any issues with any contrast or dye used in imaging tests.
It’s important to stay very still while the images are being made, which only takes a few minutes at a time. Tell the technologist if you need to move or take a break.
Breast MRI scans can usually take between 20 and 35 minutes.
To schedule an appointment, call (972) 403-2704.