Tests: MRI

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The Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: January 22, 2002

About MRI of the Breast

Rena Rowan Breast CenterThis "Helpful Facts" sheet is designed to give you basic information on MRI of the breast. More detailed information can be provided by your doctor or nurse. If you have other questions or would like additional information please talk to your doctor or nurse.

What is a Breast MRI?
A breast MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) uses magnets and radio waves to create clear detailed pictures of the inside of your breasts. The breast is in mild compression during the procedure and you are lying on your stomach. Frequently, an intravenous injection is necessary for the best imaging.

When is breast MRI performed?
In some patients, MRI may helpful to diagnose breast cancers that may be difficult to detect by mammography or breast ultrasound. A breast MRI may also be used to further evaluate questionable areas seen on a mammogram or breast ultrasound.

Are there any risks to having a breast MRI?
People with cardiac pacemakers cannot have a MRI nor should they be in the MRI area. This is also true for people with some forms of metal in their bodies, like artificial joints, cochlear ear implants and artificial heart valves.

Is there any preparation for the breast MRI?
Do not bring anything metallic into the room. This includes jewelry, watches, credit cards, hearing aids, removable dental work, pins or zippers.

If you get uncomfortable in small places (claustrophobia) you may want to ask your referring doctor to prescribe a sedative to take shortly before the test. If you experience pain when lying flat you may want to ask your doctor to prescribe pain medication to take shortly before the test. In these situations, make sure that you have someone who can drive you to and from the hospital.

What happens during the breast MRI?
You will be asked to undress and change into a patient gown. You will lie down on a table. The table will then be slid inside a tunnel-like tube. This tube is inside a large scanner that contains the imaging magnets. You will be asked to remain still throughout the test. Several pictures will be taken of your breast.

Will the breast MRI hurt?
The table may be hard and cold. A pillow or blanket can be provided as long as it doesn't interfere with the test. The machine is noisy and you may hear loud thumping or humming sounds. Earplugs can be used to reduce the noise. Since the space inside the tube is small some people will experience anxiety (claustrophobia). Taking a sedative if necessary before the test will help.

Why must I remain still during the MRI?
Any movement could make the images less clear. You must stay still and in the same position during the entire test.

Will I be alone during the breast MRI?
The technologist will watch you throughout the entire procedure from just outside the room and will be able to hear you and answer any questions via an intercom. The technologist will periodically tell you what is about to happen and how much longer the test will be. The technologist will also ask how you are doing.

How long will the breast MRI take?
The complete tests take about 30-60 minutes.

When do I learn breast MRI results?
A breast MRI report will be sent to your doctor shortly after the test is completed. Your doctor will discuss the results with you.