A breast MRI (magnetic-resonance imaging) scan is a noninvasive diagnostic imaging test that produces multiple cross-sectional images of the breast to help screen for breast cancer.
This advanced procedure is capable of detecting certain abnormalities that may not be found by other imaging techniques. It is the only procedure to produce images of both hard and soft tissue. An MRI scan is often performed after a mammogram, and may be helpful in staging breast cancer.
The Purpose of a Breast MRI Scan
This procedure is most often performed on women with a high risk of breast cancer, including those who:
- Are older than 50
- Have a family or personal history of breast cancer
- Are obese
- Had a late onset of menopause
- Have no children
An MRI scan can help diagnose serious conditions to determine the best treatment options. It may also be used to help with early detection of breast cancer. With the injection of contrast material, a breast MRI scan can help identify:
- Enlarged ducts
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Other breast abnormalities, as well as their size and location
An MRI scan can also be used during a follow-up biopsy to precisely guide the needle to the targeted area in order to effectively remove tissue samples.
The Benefits of a Breast MRI Scan
A breast MRI scan is effective in detecting a wide range of breast-tissue abnormalities, including many that may be missed by a mammogram. Minimally invasive, the procedure can be used for many different purposes, including:
- Breast-cancer diagnosis and staging
- Confirming abnormalities detected by other imaging exams
- Monitoring chemotherapy treatment
- Evaluating the status of breast implants
An MRI scan is an effective diagnostic tool that does not involve any exposure to radiation. Unlike X-rays, radioisotopes, CT scans and other methods that use radiation, MRI scans use radiofrequency waves, which detect differences in water concentration and distribution in body tissues.
The procedure is safe for nearly all patients, and is constantly being improved to make it more comfortable for patients with claustrophobia.
The Breast MRI Scan Procedure
During a breast MRI scan, the patient lies facedown on a moveable padded table; the breasts fit into hollow depressions that are connected to the MRI scanner through magnetic signals. A contrast dye may be injected into the body to help easily identify any abnormalities. The table then slides into the opening of the machine, and a magnetic field is created around the patient. A breast MRI scan takes about one hour to perform.