Breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is an imaging test that creates detailed pictures of the inside of the breasts without the utilization of ionizing radiation. MRI of the breast is not a replacement for mammography or ultrasound imaging but rather a supplemental tool that has many important uses, including:
- Screening in women at high risk for breast cancer — MRI may be an appropriate tool to screen for breast cancer in women at high risk for breast cancer, typically because of a strong family history. A strong family history is usually a mother or sister who has had breast cancer before age 50. It also can be aunts or cousins, including those on the father’s side. Your surgeon or primary care doctor can look at your family history and determine if screening MRI may be appropriate for you.
- Determining the extent of cancer after a new diagnosis of breast cancer — After being diagnosed with breast cancer, a breast MRI may be performed to determine several things including how large the cancer is and whether it involves the underlying muscle. If also can help determine if there are other cancers in the same breast and whether there is an unsuspected cancer in the opposite breast. MRI can help detect if there are any abnormally large lymph nodes in the armpit, which can be a sign the cancer has spread to that site.
- Further evaluating hard-to-assess abnormalities seen on mammography— Sometimes an abnormality seen on a mammogram cannot be adequately evaluated by additional mammography and ultrasound alone. In these rare cases, MRI can be used to definitively determine if the abnormality needs biopsy or can safely be left alone.
- Evaluating lumpectomy sites in the years following breast cancer treatment —Scarring and recurrent cancer can look identical on mammography and ultrasound. If there is a change in a lumpectomy scar by either mammography or on a physical exam, MRI can help determine whether the change is normal maturation of the scar or a recurrence of the cancer.
- Following chemotherapy treatment in patients getting neoadjuvant chemotherapy —In some cases, breast cancer will be treated with chemotherapy before it has been removed by surgery. This is called neoadjuvant chemotherapy. In these cases, MRI is often used to monitor how well the chemotherapy is working and to reevaluate the amount of tumor still present before the surgery is performed.
- Evaluating breast implants— MRI is the best test for determining whether silicone implants have ruptured.
Benefits of Breast MRI
MRI is a non-invasive imaging technique that does not involve exposure to ionizing radiation. MRI has proven valuable in detecting and staging breast cancer, particularly when other imaging studies (mammography, ultrasound, etc.) fail to provide adequate information. The technology as an addition to mammography has been shown to be useful in evaluating women at high risk for breast cancer.
MRI can successfully image the dense breast tissue common in younger women, and it can successfully image breast implants. Both of these are difficult to image using traditional mammography.
If a suspicious lesion is seen with MRI only, MRI can provide guidance for biopsy. The contrast material used in MRI exams is less likely to produce an allergic reaction than the iodine-based contrast materials used for conventional x-rays and CT scanning.
Talk with your doctor about your breast cancer risk and screening test(s) that are right for you.
Breast MRI is available at the Baptist Hospital Towers location at 1717 N. E Street, Pensacola, FL.