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Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) - Breast

Last updated Jan. 18, 2019

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD MPH

liz west

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a noninvasive medical test that is primarily used to screen for breast cancer, if there is a family history of the condition, and for many other reasons.


Background Information:

What are the other Names for the Procedure?

  • Breast MRI
  • Magnetic Resonance Tomography - Breast
  • MRI Breast Scan

What is Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan of the Breast radiology procedure? (General Explanation)

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a noninvasive medical test that uses a powerful magnetic field to produce images of soft tissues, bones, organs, and all other internal body structures. An MRI does not use any radiation for visualizing the body parts
  • A ‘Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) - Breast’ is primarily used to screen for breast cancer, if there is a family history of the condition, and for many other reasons

What part of the Body does the Procedure involve?

The MRI scan is performed on the breasts.

Why is the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan of the Breast radiology procedure Performed?

  • A Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) - Breast’ is used to screen women with high risk of breast cancer due to strong family history of breast cancer
  • An MRI can also be used to determine how large the cancer is, if there are any other cancers in the breast, or if the cancer has spread to any other sites
  • An MRI is used to evaluate lumpectomy sites as just a scar or cancer recurrence following breast cancer treatment
  • Many times, chemotherapy is used to decrease tumor size before breast cancer surgery. MRI is used to monitor how well the chemotherapy is working
  • Some abnormalities are hard to determine using mammography and ultrasound, and in these cases, an MRI can be used for definitive diagnosis
  • It can also be used to determine whether silicone implants have ruptured

What is the Equipment used? (Description of Equipment)

The equipment used for a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) - Breast is the following:

  • An MRI is a large cylinder-shaped tube that is surrounded by a circular magnet
  • The patient lies on the table that slides back and forth in the cylinder tube
  • In some MRI equipment, called short-bore systems, the magnet does not completely surround the patient. This is particularly helpful for patients who are obese or those fearful of being in a closed tube. This is called an open MRI

What are the Recent Advances in the Procedure?

There have been no recent advances to replace the MRI scan procedure.

What is the Cost of performing the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan of the Breast radiology procedure?

The cost of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) - Breast Scan depends on a variety of factors, such as the type of your health insurance, annual deductibles, co-pay requirements, out-of-network and in-network of your healthcare providers and healthcare facilities. 

In many cases, an estimate may be provided before the procedure. The final amount depends upon the findings during the surgery/procedure and post-operative care that is necessary.

When do you need a Second Opinion, prior to the Procedure?

  • It is normal for a patient to feel uncomfortable and confused with a sudden inflow of information regarding an MRI procedure and what needs to be done
  • If the patient needs further reassurance or a second opinion, a physician will almost always assist in recommending another physician
  • Also, if the procedure involves multiple steps or has many alternatives, the patient may take a second opinion to understand and choose the best one. They can also choose to approach another physician independently

What are some Helpful Resources?

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003335.htm (accessed on 05/16/2015)

Prior to Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan of the Breast radiology procedure:

How does the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan of the Breast radiology procedure work?

  • The MRI equipment uses magnet fields instead of ionizing radiation
  • An electrical current passes through coils in order to produce a magnetic field
  • Other coils send and receive radio waves and signals that are detected by the coils
  • A computer processes the signals and generates images showing a thin slice of the body

How is the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan of the Breast radiology procedure Performed?

The Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) - Breast procedure is performed as:

  • The patient is positioned (usually face down) on the moveable examination table
  • An IV line may be inserted into the patient’s arm if contrast material is required for the procedure
  • The patient has to remain still during the procedure, in order to avoid any blurriness of the images
  • The patient is moved into the MRI unit and images are taken while the radiologist is checking the images in an adjacent room

Where is the Procedure Performed?

The Magnetic Resonance Imaging - Breast Scan procedure is performed either as an in-patient procedure or as an outpatient procedure at a hospital.

Who Performs the Procedure?

The Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) - Breast procedure is usually performed by a radiology technologist, under the supervision of a radiologist.

How long will the Procedure take?

The MRI Breast Scan procedure usually takes 30 to 60 minutes.

Who interprets the Result?

A radiologist will analyze the images of the Magnetic Resonance Imaging - Breast Scan and inform the primary care physician, who will then inform the patient.

What Preparations are needed, prior to the Procedure?

The following preparations may be needed prior to a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) - Breast Scan procedure:

  • The physician may evaluate the individual’s medical history to gain a comprehensive knowledge of the overall health status of the patient, including information related to the medications that are currently being taken
  • Do inform the medical professional if you have a history of any medical conditions, such as a heart disease, asthma, diabetes, or kidney disease
  • Do inform the medical professional about any allergies, especially related to barium or iodinated contrast material, which may be used in the procedure
  • It is advisable to wear comfortable and loose clothes. Avoid wearing any metal objects or jewelry, as it may interfere with the X-ray
  • Women should notify the physician if they are pregnant or breastfeeding their child; as many such procedures may not be performed on pregnant women
  • Depending on the procedure adopted, the patient may be asked for certain bowel or bladder preparations before the preparation sessions
  • The patient may be asked to avoid eating or drinking several hours before the test
  • It is recommended to notify the physician about any implants or metal objects in the body, such as a pacemaker, nerve simulators, surgical staples, or artificial heart valves, braces, or dyed tattoos, as they may interfere with the imaging, in some cases
  • Those with metal objects in their body may be required to have an X-ray taken before the MRI scan. In many cases, having a metal object in the body is a contraindication for performing an MRI scan
  • It is recommended to wear loss fitting clothing for the exam

What is the Consent Process before the Procedure?

  • A physician will request your consent for an MRI Breast Scan procedure using an Informed Consent Form.
  • Consent for the Procedure: A “consent” is your approval to undergo a procedure. A consent form is signed after the risks and benefits of the procedure, and alternative treatment options, are discussed. This process is called informed consent.
  • You must sign the forms only after you are totally satisfied with the answers to your questions. In case of minors and individuals unable to personally give their consent, the individual’s legal guardian or next of kin, shall give their consent for the procedure.

What are the Benefits versus Risks, for this Procedure?

Following are the benefits of an MRI Breast Scan:

  • The MRI does not use any ionizing radiations
  • The contrast material used in the MRI is less likely to produce an allergic reaction than such contrast materials used in other procedures
  • The MRI tool can also be used as a guidance for performing biopsies
  • It is a non-invasive technique
  • The MRI can detect even small breast lesions that are often missed with traditional mammography
  • The MRI is often recommended for young women with dense breast tissues or women with breast implants, as they are difficult to image with mammography

Following are the risks of an MRI Breast Scan:

  • Generally, patients undergoing an MRI procedure have almost no risk associated with the procedure
  • The MRI uses a strong magnetic field, which can affect medically-implanted metal devices
  • The patient may experience an allergic reaction due to the contrast material used in the procedure, though it is very rare
  • There is a very rare chance of developing nephrogenic systemic fibrosis, if high doses of gadolinium contrast material are used in patients with very poor kidney function

What are the Limitations of the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan of the Breast radiology procedure?

Following are the limitations of an MRI Breast Scan:

  • The MRI scan is quite expensive
  • It takes more time to perform an MRI scan than using other imaging techniques
  • The patient must remain still in order to obtain high-quality images through the scan
  • In some cases, obese or large patients may have a difficulty in bodily-fitting into a conventional MRI machine
  • Pregnant women are usually advised against having an MRI exam, unless it is deemed absolutely necessary
  • False positive test result may occur if benign (non- cancerous) breast tissue takes up the contrast material and shows a bright spot on the image.  In such cases, additional testing, such as an ultrasound or biopsy, may be needed to clarify any doubts

What are some Questions for your Physician?

Some of the basic questions that you might ask your health care provider or physician are as follows:

  • What is the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) - Breast Scan procedure?
  • Why is this procedure necessary? How will it help?
  • How soon should I get it done? Is it an emergency?
  • Who are the medical personnel involved in this procedure?
  • Where is the procedure performed?
  • What are the risks while performing the procedure?
  • What are the complications that might take place during recovery?
  • What are the possible side effects from the procedure? How can I minimize these side effects?
  • How long will it take to recover? When can I resume normal work?
  • How many such procedures have you (the physician) performed?
  • Are there any lifestyle restrictions or modifications required, after the procedure is performed?
  • Are there any follow-up tests or periodic visits to the healthcare facility that are required after the procedure?
  • Is there any medication that needs to be taken for life after the procedure?
  • What are the costs involved?

During the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan of the Breast radiology procedure:

What is to be expected during the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan of the Breast radiology procedure?

  • The Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) - Breast Scan is a painless procedure
  • The patient may find it uncomfortable to stay still for a long time
  • If the patient has claustrophobia (fear of being in closed spaces), sedation may be used to help the patient relax
  • The patient may hear tapping or thumping sounds when images are taken and may relax between the imaging sequences. If the patient wants to avoid the machine noise, they may request ear plugs
  • Some people feel nervous inside the MRI scanner due to the noise of the equipment; this is quite normal
  • The patient is usually alone in the scan room during an MRI procedure, but the technologist will be able to see, hear, and speak to the patient during the procedure
  • The patient may feel a little warm on the part of the body where images are taken
  • A cooling and flushing sensation may be felt for a few minutes when the contrast material is injected. Very rarely, the patient may feel nauseous due to the contrast material
  • The recovery period is not necessary for patients who are not sedated and these patients may resume their normal activities and diet immediately after the exam
  • In rare cases, if the patient is allergic to the contrast material, they may experience hives, itchy eyes, or local pain. In such cases, doctors are available for immediate assistance
  • There is no recovery period necessary for patients who are not sedated. These patients may resume their normal activities and a normal diet after the exam

What kind of Anesthesia is given, during the Procedure?

No anesthesia is administered during the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) - Breast Scan procedure.

How much Blood will you lose, during the Procedure?

There is no blood loss involved during the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) - Breast Scan procedure.

What are the possible Risks and Complications during the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan of the Breast radiology procedure?

There are no significant risks involved in an MRI Scan of the Breast.

What Post-Operative Care is needed at the Healthcare Facility after the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan of the Breast radiology procedure?

  • There is no post-operative care required at the healthcare facility after the Magnetic Resonance Imaging - Breast Scan procedure
  • However, if the patient is experiencing an allergic reaction from the contrast material, then do contact the physician immediately

After the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan of the Breast radiology procedure:

What is to be expected after the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan of the Breast radiology procedure?

Generally, no complications or side effects are observed after a magnetic resonance imaging scan procedure.

When do you need to call your Physician?

If the individual experiences an allergic reaction from the contrast material, then the physician has to be contacted. The Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) - Breast Scan can be performed with or without using contrast material.

What Post-Operative Care is needed at Home after the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan of the Breast radiology procedure?

There is no postoperative care required at home after the MRI Breast Scan.

How long does it normally take to fully recover, from the Procedure?

The patient needs no recovery time after an MRI Breast Scan procedure.

Additional Information:

What happens to tissue (if any), taken out during the Procedure?

No tissue is extracted from the patient during an MRI Breast Scan procedure.

When should you expect results from the pathologist regarding tissue taken out, during the Procedure?

Since no tissue is removed during the procedure, a pathologist does not get involved in the care of the patient. 

Who will you receive a Bill from, after the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan of the Breast radiology procedure?

It is important to note that the number of bills that the patient may receive depends on the arrangement the healthcare facility has with the physician and other healthcare providers.

Sometimes, the patient may get a single bill that includes the healthcare facility and the consultant physician charges. Sometimes, the patient might get multiple bills depending on the healthcare provider involved. For instance, the patient may get a bill from:

  • The hospital, where the procedure is performed
  • A radiologist, performing the procedure
  • Healthcare providers, physicians, who are involved in the process

The patient is advised to inquire and confirm the type of billing, before the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) - Breast Scan procedure is performed.

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: May 16, 2015
Last updated: Jan. 18, 2019