Understanding Breast Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
Breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a noninvasive medical tool that uses a powerful magnetic field, radio frequency pulses and a computer to produce detailed pictures of the female breast. This is a relatively new technique in the evaluation of breast disease. Breast MRI does not replace conventional imaging of the breasts, such as mammography or ultrasound, but provides an additional detection tool, particularly for women who have:
- A history of breast cancer or currently have the disease
- A family history of breast disease
- Genetic BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes
- Dense breasts
- Inconclusive mammography or ultrasound examinations
A breast MRI does not expose the patient to ionizing radiation as with other detection methods and does not involve compression of the breast as in a mammography. A specially designed table for breast MRIs has coils in which each breast is placed while the patient lies on her stomach. A contrast agent called Gadolinium® is used to provide more detailed images of the tissue within the breasts. WellStar radiologists also use computer-aided detection (CAD) to highlight areas of concern. If abnormal tissue is found, a WellStar radiologist may recommend an MRI-guided breast biopsy.
Although a breast MRI is more sensitive than other detection tools, it is not always able to make distinctions between cancer and benign breast disease (such as fibrocystic change) or swollen tissue. These can create “false positives” in which results indicate a suspicious finding when there is no cancer present. A biopsy may be required to confirm the results of a breast MRI.
WellStar Resources & Support
WellStar offers breast MRI services at The WellStar Cobb Imaging Center, The Kennestone Womens Imaging Center, WellStar Kennestone Imaging Center in East Cobb, WellStar Kennestone Imaging Center at Towne Lake, WellStar Douglas Hospital, WellStar Paulding Hospital and WellStar Windy Hill Hospital. MRI-guided breast biopsy is available at WellStar Kennestone Hospital.
Wellstar is fortunate to have several advanced tools to optimize breast imaging. This includes open MRI at WellStar Kennestone Imaging Center at Towne Lake and WellStar Paulding Hospital Imaging Center for larger patients and for claustrophobic patient. 3 Tesla MRI, the fastest and highest resolution MRI in clinical use in the US, is available at WellStar Kennestone Hospital Women’s Center, with a second unit to be installed in 2011
Before the Procedure
Your WellStar physician may recommend a breast MRI near the beginning of your menstrual cycle (day 5 -15) for the best results.
You should inform your radiologist or another WellStar physician if you believe you might be pregnant, have a medication or contrast allergy, or kidney problem. You should also inform your doctor if you have any implanted medical devices, implanted metal, such as aneurysm clips, or artificial joints. If you have issues with claustrophobia, you may want to ask your doctor to prescribe a mild sedative prior to the examination.
For the examination itself, you should wear loose, comfortable clothing and avoid garments that have zippers, clasps, belts or any other metal fasteners. You will likely be asked to remove any jewelry, wallets, dentures, eyeglasses or anything that might interfere with the MRI.
During the Procedure
When you arrive, WellStar nurses or technologists will position you on a moveable examination table specially designed for a breast MRI. You will lie face down on your stomach with your breasts placed into cushioned openings surrounded by special coils that detect magnetic signals from the MRI machine. A nurse or a technologist will insert an intravenous tube into a vein in your arm or your hand so you may receive contrast material.
It is essential that you remain as relaxed as possible, since even small movements can hinder efforts to complete a quality exam. Ask for a blanket, a pillow, headphones or earplugs to make the exam more comfortable.
After the initial preparation, you will be moved into the large central opening of the MRI machine. During the test, the technologist will monitor your progress from another room as the machine creates a magnetic field around you and directs radio waves at your breasts. You will not hear or feel the magnetic field or radio waves, but there will be loud tapping and thumping from inside the machine during the procedure.
MRI exams generally include multiple series with pauses between episodes of imaging.
When the exam is finished, you will be taken out of the machine, and the intravenous line will be removed.
The entire outpatient procedure, including preparation time, typically takes between 30 and 90 minutes.
After the Procedure
Once you have completed a breast MRI, you may resume your normal, everyday activities. There should be no recovery time unless you needed sedation.