A breast MRI, also known as a magnetic resonance imaging study of the breast, is a non-invasive, painless diagnostic imaging procedure that creates detailed images of the breasts using radio waves and a strong magnetic field.
How does an MRI Work?
An MRI procedure involves the use of radio waves that temporarily realign hydrogen atoms in the tissue without causing any chemical changes. As the hydrogen atoms return to their normal position, they emit varying amounts of energy depending on the type of tissue they are located in. The MRI scanner captures the energy variation and creates detailed images based on this information.
Magnetic resonance imaging of the breast may be ordered by your doctor for:
- Breast cancer screening
- Characterization of breast lesions
- Estimation of the size of breast tumors
- Evaluation of the condition of breast implants
- Distinguishing between cancerous and noncancerous lesions
- Performing preoperative staging of the cancerous lesion
- Evaluation of response to treatment for breast cancer
Preparation for a Breast MRI
In preparation for your breast MRI, you should:
- Inform your doctor regarding any health conditions, previous surgeries, implants, or metal placed within your body, the likelihood of pregnancy, and any allergies.
- Continue to take your regular medications unless otherwise specified.
- Remove all metallic objects including hairpins, eyeglasses, and jewelry, and wear loose, comfortable clothing without metal fasteners.
Breast MRI Procedure
Magnetic resonance imaging of the breast involves the following basic steps:
- You will lie face down on a platform that has openings to accommodate the breasts allowing the imaging to be performed without compressing them.
- An IV line will be placed into your arm to inject contrast material if required. A contrast dye can help to identify tumors and other abnormalities. If the breast MRI is being performed to check for a ruptured breast implant, contrast dye will not be used.
- You may be offered earplugs to avoid being distracted by the noises made by the MRI machine or you can choose to listen to music through headphones during the procedure.
- The platform will be advanced into the magnet of the MRI machine.
- The technologist will perform the examination from another room taking multiple sets of pictures of the breast, each set lasting several minutes.
- You will be required to remain as still as possible to obtain the clearest images.
- A microphone in the MRI machine allows you to talk to the technologist.
- The entire procedure will be completed within 45 minutes to an hour.
Post Procedure Care
You can return to your routine activities and resume your normal diet immediately after the procedure. You should also drink plenty of water to help flush the contrast material out of your body if it was used. If sedation was provided to help you relax, you may need someone to drive you home and will have to wait until the effects of sedation wear off before returning to your routine activities. A radiologist or trained doctor will analyze the images and send the report to your doctor, who will share the results with you.
Risks and Complications
A breast MRI is a very safe procedure with minimal risks and complications that include:
- The strong magnetic field produced by the MRI does not cause any harmful effects, except for malfunctioning of implanted devices which can distort the images.
- There may be an allergic reaction to the contrast dye. These reactions are usually mild and can be easily controlled with medication.
The benefits of a breast MRI include the following:
- Produces highly detailed images of the breast tissue
- Detects small tumors that may be missed with other diagnostic procedures
- Detects tumors in dense breast tissue
- Virtually no side effects as there is no exposure to harmful radiation
A breast MRI is an advanced imaging study that helps in the evaluation of structures within the breast tissue. As it does not use any ionizing radiation, a breast MRI is the best method for screening women at high risk for breast cancer, determining the extent of breast cancer, and identifying ruptures in silicone breast implants.