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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) of the Breast

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio waves to make pictures of the breast. It does not use X-rays. MRI may show problems in the breast that cannot be seen on a mammogram, ultrasound, or CT scan.

The MRI camera.gif makes pictures that show your breast's normal structure; tissue damage or disease, such as infection; inflammation; or a lump. MRI is better than mammography or ultrasound for looking at some breast lumps.

In most cases, a dye (contrast material) may be used so that abnormalities can be seen more clearly from normal breast tissue. The contrast material makes it easier to find problems with increased or abnormal blood flow, such as with some types of cancer or areas of inflammation.

MRI is a safe and valuable test for looking at the breast, but it has a high rate of false-positive results, and it is more costly than other methods and is not available in all hospitals.

You may be able to have an MRI with an open machine camera.gif that doesn't enclose your entire body. But open MRI machines aren't available everywhere. The pictures from an open MRI may not be as good as those from a standard MRI machine camera.gif.

Why It Is Done

An MRI of the breast is done to:

  • Find breast cancer. Breast MRI may be done when a mammogram or breast ultrasound scan cannot tell if a lump is cancer.
  • Check women who are at increased risk for breast cancer. This includes women with:
    • Gene changes (such as BRCA).
    • Close family members who have had breast cancer.
    • A history of radiation therapy to the chest as a child.
  • Choose the best treatment for breast cancer. It may also be used to check breast tissue changes during treatment.
  • Check breasts with nipple changes for signs of breast cancer. These changes include inverted nipples, nipples with scaly skin that flakes off, and nipples with abnormal discharge.
  • Check women with breast implants. MRI may be used to look for breast cancer or to check if the implant is leaking.

Women at increased risk for breast cancer may have screening tests that alternate between MRIs and mammograms. This is done because the tests can detect different kinds of problems.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 08, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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