Breast MRI Scan: Purpose, Risks and Results

A breast (MRI) scan is a type of imagery test using magnets and radio waves to verify the presence of breast abnormalities.

An MRI makes it possible for doctors to see the soft tissues of your body. Your physician may ask you to have an MRI of your breast if he suspects that your breasts are showing abnormalities. (1)

Why a Breast MRI Is Done

An MRI breast scan is used to examine your breasts when other imaging exams are inadequate or inconclusive, screening for breast cancer in women who are at high risk for developing the disease, and tracking the progress of breast cancer as well as the effectiveness of breast cancer treatment. (2)

Your physician may also request an MRI of the breast if you have:

  • Women with mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2
  • dense breast tissue
  • breast cancer signs
  • family history of breast cancer
  • a leak or break in the breast implant.
  • lump in the breast
  • precancerous breast changes
  • leaking silicone gel implant
  • Women with genetic problems Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Cowden syndrome
  • Women who received breast radiotherapy between 10-30 years of age, for example, to treat Hodgkin’s disease

Your healthcare provider may have other reasons to recommend breast MRI.

The Risks of a Breast MRI

MR has been identified as a safer alternative to radiological examinations, like computed tomography, in pregnant women. While radiation levels in computed tomography scans are safe for adults, they are not safe for fetal development. (3)

There is nothing to indicate that magnetic fields or radio waves from a breast MRI are harmful.

Other risks may arise depending on your specific state of health. Remember to discuss any concerns with your healthcare provider in advance of the procedure.

Although they are safer than CT scans, X-rays, there are some considerations for breast MRIs:

  • false positive results: an MRI does not always differentiate between cancerous and non-cancerous outgrowths, so it can detect masses that may appear cancerous when they are not. You may be required to perform a biopsy to confirm your test results.
  • allergic reaction to contrast dye: MRIs use a dye injection in your blood to make images easier to see. The dye has been known to induce allergic reactions, and serious complications for people who have kidney problems.

How to Prepare for a Breast MRI

Before your MRI, your physician will walk you through the test and look at your complete physical and medical history. During this period, you should inform your doctor of any medicine you may be taking or any known allergy. Tell your physician whether you have implanted medical devices because they may be affected by the test.

Tell your physician if you have ever had allergic reactions to contrast dye or if you have received a diagnosis of kidney problems. You should say that to your physician if you are pregnant, think you might be pregnant, or are breast-feeding. Breast MRI scans are not considered safe for pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers are not expected to breastfeed their children for approximately two days after the test.

Planning your MRI scan early in your menstrual cycle is also important. The best time to do this is from the seventh to the fourteenth day of your menstrual cycle.

The MRI machine is in a confined and narrow space, so you should inform your doctor if you have claustrophobic. The physician can provide you with a sedative to help you relax. In extreme situations, your physician may choose an “open” MRI where the device is not as close to your body. Your doctor can provide you with a better explanation of your options.

Depending on your health, another specific preparation may be required by your health care provider.

When you call to schedule an appointment, it is extremely important that you advise if one of the following applies to you:

  • You’re either pregnant or you expect to be
  • You already suffered a gunshot wound
  • If you have a pacemaker, or the heart valves have been replaced

How a Breast MRI Is Performed

An MRI scanner includes a flat table which can enter and exit the scanner. The wheel-shaped rounded part is where magnets and radio waves transmit to produce pictures of your breast.

You will be asked to take off your clothing, hearing aids, jewelry, eyeglasses, hairpins, removable dental work, or other items that may interfere with the process.

If you are asked to take off clothes, we will put on a dress to wear.

The technician will let you know when you need to stop and when you need to hold your breathing. The technician is going to be in a separate room, looking at the monitors which collect pictures, and therefore these instructions will be given on a microphone.

You won’t be able to feel the machine work, but you can hear loud noises, such as clacks or thuds, and may be one whirring noise. You can get ear plugs from the techician.

The test can take as long as one hour. After saving the pictures, you can change hospital clothes and leave them.

Results from a Breast MRI

A radiologist will examine your breast MRI, dictate its interpretation and provide it to your physician , who will examine it when the results are received. Your physician will contact you to discuss your findings or to arrange a follow-up appointment.

MR pictures are in black and white. Tumours and other abnormalities can occur as shiny white spots. These white dots are where contrast dye has built up due to increased cellular activity.

If your MRI shows that a mass may be cancerous, your physician will request a biopsy as a follow-up test. This involves surgically removing a small tissue sample from the suspicious mass. A biopsy will allow your physician to find out if the tumour is cancerous or not.

Breastfeeding mothers can choose not to breastfeed between 12 and 24 hours following a contrast breast MRI.

Your healthcare provider may provide you with additional or alternative instructions following the procedure, depending on your specific situation.

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