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Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Written by sshowalter.

MRI uses magnetic fields to make images of the inside of the body. A computer produces two- and three-dimensional pictures.

Breast MRI can be used to:

  • Evaluate breast abnormalities in breast tissue seen on mammography
  • Identify breast abnormalities in women (and in some cases, men) with dense breast tissue, implants, or scar tissue
  • Examine breast implants
  • Examine scar tissue
  • Evaluate the progress of breast cancer treatment
  • Identify cysts or enlarged breast ducts
  • Examine lymph nodes near the breast

What to Expect

Prior to test

What to expect leading up to the test:

  • Try to schedule the test between days 5 and 15 of your menstrual cycle.
  • If your doctor prescribes a sedative: o Arrange for a ride home. o Take the sedative 1-2 hours before the exam, or as directed.

Once at the MRI center:

  • You will be asked about the following: o Medical and surgical history o Pregnancy o Allergies o Other conditions that you may have—If your MRI involves contrast material, your doctor will ask about the health of your kidneys. There is a risk of complications in people who have kidney disease and receive contrast material.
  • You will be asked if you have something in your body that would interfere with or make it so you cannot have an MRI, such as: o Pacemaker or implantable defibrillator o Neurostimulator o Ear implant o Metal fragments in your eyes or in any other part of your body (Tell your doctor if your work involves metal filings or particles.) o Implanted port device o Metal plate, pins, screws, or surgical staples o Metal clips from aneurysm repair o Retained bullets o Any other large metal objects in your body (Tooth fillings and braces are usually fine.)
  • You will remove any metal objects (eg, jewelry, hearing aids, glasses).
  • An x-ray may be taken to see if there are any metal objects in your body.

You may be:

  • Given ear plugs or headphones to wear (The MRI machine makes a loud banging noise.)
  • Allowed to have a family member or friend with you during the test

Description of the Test

You will lie face down on your stomach on a moveable bed. The bed will slide into a large, cylindrical magnet. Your breasts will hang into cushioned openings. You may be hooked up to monitors. These monitors will track your pulse, heart rate, and breathing. The technician will be in another room and give you directions via an intercom. A magnetic field will be produced to generate three-dimensional images of your breast tissue. As this happens, you will hear loud banging noises.

The MRI may require contrast dye to make the pictures better. In this case, you will receive an IV in your hand or arm. Contrast material will be injected through the IV. After the Test

You will need to wait until the images are examined. In some cases, the technician may need to take more images.

  • If you took a sedative, do not drive, operate machinery, or make important decisions until the sedative wears off completely.
  • If you are breastfeeding and receive a contrast dye, you and your doctor should discuss when you should start breastfeeding again. Information available has not found any ill effects to a baby if a mother has had contrast dye.

The procedure will take a little over an hour and should not hurt.

After the Test

The MRI images will be sent to a radiologist. Your doctor will receive the report and talk to you about the results. Call Your Doctor TOP

After the test, call your doctor if any of the following occurs:

  • Worsening of your symptoms
  • Any allergic or abnormal symptoms, like a rash or swelling if you were injected with contrast dye

In case of an emergency, CALL 911.


American Cancer Society

National Cancer Institute

Canadian Cancer Society

National Cancer Institute of Canada

Camp HJ. Controversies in breast MRI. Radiologica. 2010 June; 52(suppl 1):26-9.

Heywang-Kobrunner SH, Viehweg P, Heinig A, Kuchler C. Contrast-enhanced MRI of the breast: accuracy, value, controversies, solutions. Eur J Radiol. 1997;24:94-108.

Klostergaard J, Parga K, Raptic RC. Current and future applications of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to breast and ovarian cancer management. Puerto Rico Health Sciences J. 2010 September;29(3): 223-31.

MR imaging (MRI)—breast. RadiologyInfo website. Available at: Accessed May 21, 2007.

Shinil K, Shah BS, Shiwan K, Shah BS, Greatrex KV. J Am Board Fam Med. 2005;18:478-490.

What is Breast MRI? University of California at San Francisco website. Available at: Accessed June 6, 2007.

9/10/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance US Food and Drug Administration. New warnings required on use of gadolinium-based contrast agents. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: Updated September 9, 2010. Accessed September 10, 2010.

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