Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Breast Cancer Health Center

Select An Article
Font Size

Breast Cancer and MRI

Breast MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is a test that should not be used to distinguish between benign (noncancerous) and malignant (cancerous) areas, in lieu of a breast biopsy. Due to false positive results, performing this test may increase the number of breast biopsies that need to be performed. It is not appropriate to utilize breast MRI to evaluate a suspicious breast mass, or to follow these breast masses over time. Although MRI may detect tumors in dense breast tissue, the presence of dense breast tissue is not a reason to have a breast MRI scan. Breast MRI scanning cannot detect tiny specks of calcium (known as microcalcifications), which account for half of the cancers detected by mammography.

 

Recommended Related to Breast Cancer

Stage Information for Breast Cancer Treatment and Pregnancy

Procedures used for determining the stage of breast cancer should be modified for pregnant women to avoid radiation exposure to the fetus. Nuclear scans cause fetal radiation exposure.[1] If such scans are essential for evaluation, hydration and Foley catheter drainage of the bladder can be used to prevent retention of radioactivity. Timing of the exposure to radiation relative to the gestational age of the fetus may be more critical than the actual dose of radiation delivered.[2] Radiation exposure...

Read the Stage Information for Breast Cancer Treatment and Pregnancy article > >

Is the Breast MRI Test Safe?

A breast MRI is safe. The test poses no risk to the average patient if appropriate safety guidelines are followed.

People who have had heart surgery and people with the following medical devices can be safely examined with MRI:

  • Surgical clips or sutures
  • Artificial joints
  • Staples
  • Most heart valve replacements
  • Disconnected medication pumps
  • Vena cava filters
  • Brain shunt tubes for hydrocephalus

Some conditions may make an MRI exam inadvisable. Tell your doctor if you have any of the following conditions:

  • Heart pacemaker
  • Cerebral aneurysm clip (metal clip on a blood vessel in the brain)
  • Implanted insulin pump (for treatment of diabetes), narcotics pump (for pain medication), or implanted nerve stimulators ("TENS") for back pain
  • Metal in the eye or eye socket
  • Cochlear (ear) implant for hearing impairment
  • Implanted spine stabilization rods
  • Severe lung disease
  • Uncontrolled gastroesophageal reflux (a condition causing severe heartburn)

In addition, tell your doctor if you:

  • Are pregnant
  • Weigh more than 300 pounds
  • Are not able to lie on your back for 30 to 60 minutes
  • Have claustrophobia (fear of closed or narrow spaces)

How Long Is the Breast MRI Test?

Allow 1 1/2 hours for your breast MRI exam. In most cases, the procedure takes 45 to 60 minutes, during which time several dozen images may be obtained.

What Happens Before a Breast MRI?

Before a breast MRI, personal items such as your watch, jewelry, and wallet -- including any credit cards with magnetic strips (they will be erased by the magnet) --  should be left at home or removed. Hearing aids should be removed before the test, because they can be damaged by the magnetic field. Secured lockers are typically available to store personal possessions.

What Happens During a Breast MRI?

You will be asked to wear a hospital gown during your breast MRI.

As the MRI scan begins, you will hear the equipment making a muffled thumping sound that will last for several minutes. Other than the sound, you should experience no unusual sensations during the scanning.

Certain MRI exams require that you receive an injection of a contrast material known as gadolinium. This helps identify certain anatomic structures on the scan images.

Feel free to ask questions or tell the technologist or your doctor if you have any concerns.

What Happens After a Breast MRI?

Generally, you can resume your usual activities and normal diet immediately after a breast MRI.

Your doctor will discuss the test results with you.

 

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Arnold Wax, MD on May 16, 2012
Next Article:

Today on WebMD

Breast Cancer Health Check
HEALTH CHECK
breast cancer overview slideshow
SLIDESHOW
 
cancer fighting foods
SLIDESHOW
senior woman
Article
 
Breast Cancer Treatments Improving
VIDEO
Resolved To Quit Smoking
SLIDESHOW
 
Woman getting mammogram
Article
Screening Tests for Women
SLIDESHOW
 
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
SLIDESHOW
serious woman
Article
 
what is your cancer risk
HEALTH CHECK
10 Ways to Revitalize Slideshow
SLIDESHOW