Breast MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
Massachusetts General Hospital Imaging provides breast MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) services in a comfortable, caring environment using the latest technology, and every scan is read by a radiologist with specialty training in breast imaging.
Massachusetts General Hospital Imaging provides breast MRI services on the Mass General main campus and at Mass General Imaging - Chelsea. No matter which facility you come to, our staff places priority on making your journey through the imaging process comfortable, safe, and successful. All images are read by a specialty-trained breast radiologist.
Breast MRI overview
- An MRI machine produces a strong magnetic field and radio waves. The atoms in your body respond to this energy in a certain way. The MRI detects this response and uses it to construct detailed images.
- MRI does not use X-ray radiation.
- Breast MRI is not better than mammography, just different. It is used in certain situations, such as in women with high risk or with dense breast tissue.
- Exams typically take 45 minutes.
- Breast MRI always involves contrast—an injection that makes the images more vivid and informative.
- If you are over 60 or have kidney disease, diabetes, lupus, or multiple myeloma, a blood test before your exam is necessary to make sure the contrast is safe for you.
- Because of the strong magnet, we need to make absolutely sure you don’t have any metal objects with you. We also need to know details about any implants in your body.
- You will lie face down with your breasts placed in a special device, called a coil, that helps to enhance image quality.
- The technologist performing your exam will be nearby and able to talk to you throughout the scan.
- MRI exams require that you lie still in a confined space. Most people have no problem, but talk to your doctor if you are concerned. Your doctor may prescribe a sedative (we cannot provide such medication).
- Every exam is interpreted by a radiologist with specialty expertise in breast disease and breast imaging.
- We use the latest technology, including high-resolution 3T scanners. On-staff physicists and engineers ensure that our machines remain in top condition.
Breast MRI in depth
What is an MRI exam?
Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI, is a valuable, painless, diagnostic test that allows radiologists to see inside some areas of the body that cannot be seen using conventional X-rays. MRI produces a series of cross-sectional pictures. MRI technology has advanced so much in recent years that it has greatly altered treatment courses. Physicians can detect many conditions in earlier stages, greatly optimizing patient outcomes.
Mass General Imaging uses state-of-the-art MRI scanners to take pictures with very high resolution. These images give your physician important information in diagnosing your medical condition and planning a course of treatment.
Breast MRI is an important tool in screening for and treating breast cancer. It provides a different view from X-ray mammography and is suitable in certain situations, such as in women with dense breast tissue and women classified as having high risk for breast cancer. In women with newly discovered cancer in one breast, breast MRI is used to thoroughly examine both the breast with the tumor and the other breast. Breast MRI is also used to assess whether cancer has spread, to plan surgery, and to judge the effectiveness of chemotherapy.
All of our equipment is maintained in top condition, meeting not only the standards set by the federal government, but also by those set by Mass General Hospital's health physicists.
MRI scanners do not use X-rays. Instead, they use a very strong magnet and radio frequency. Even so, it is important to tell the technologist if there is a chance you could be pregnant. There is no evidence that MRI is unsafe for a developing fetus; however, we are still careful in the use of MRI on pregnant patients.
Patients with any kind of metallic implant anywhere in their body should not have an MRI unless their physician is fully aware of the device and has approved the MRI procedure. Under no circumstances should a patient who has a pacemaker have an MRI.
Please tell the technologist if you are, or might be, pregnant. In certain cases you may not be able to have an MRI and will need to discuss alternatives with your doctor.
What should I expect BEFORE my MRI exam?
- Medications: It is important for you to keep to your regular medication schedule. Just let our staff know what medications you have taken prior to your MRI Exam.
- Food and drink: You may eat or drink anything you like before a typical MRI test. It may be necessary for you to fast for a few hours before the test. An MRI staff member will call you the day before your test and give you any instructions you need. At that time, we can also tell you approximately how long we anticipate your test will take.
- When to arrive: You should arrive 15 minutes before your scheduled appointment. This allows time for you to complete any necessary paperwork, change your clothes for your exam and answer questions from our technologist about your medical history before we start your scan.
- What to wear: For all MRI scans, you most likely will change into a hospital gown. Our changing areas are private and there is a secure locker for your clothes. It is best, however, if you leave valuable items at home. If you are wearing anything metallic, such as jewelry, dentures, eyeglasses, or hearing aids that might interfere with the MRI scan, we will ask you to remove them. You should not have your credit cards in your pockets during the scan because the MRI magnet can affect the magnetic strip on the card. Patients who are having a brain / head scan should not wear make-up as some brands contain metal.
- Intravenous preparation: Many of our patients receive a contrast agent intravenously during their MRI scan in order to give a clearer picture of the area being scanned. If your doctor has determined that this procedure will enhance your MRI scan results, the technologist will place an IV in your arm prior to your going into the scan. (Please see the "Contrast Medium" section below.)
What will I experience DURING my MRI exam?
Once you are in the correct position, the table will slide into the body of the scanner. The scanner does not usually touch you, and you do not feel anything. The scanner does make a loud knocking noise when it takes the pictures. The technologist will offer you earplugs to lessen the noise. The technologist leaves the room, but can see you at all times. There is also a microphone in the room that lets you speak with staff throughout the scan.
- Length of breast MRI exam: The MRI may be tailored to each patient's needs, so the scanning time varies. Usually, each breast MRI consists of individual scans lasting from 1 to 5 minutes each, and the exam is completed in 35 to 45 minutes.
- Contrast medium: A contrast medium, or contrast agent, highlights your organs and blood vessels and helps the radiologist see them better. The contrast agents in use today carry a low risk of allergic reaction and cause little discomfort for most people. If you are over 60 or have kidney disease, diabetes, lupus, or multiple myeloma, you’ll need a blood test beforehand to make sure the contrast will be safe for you.
What should I expect AFTER my MRI exam?
- Instructions: You have no restrictions after having a MRI exam and can go about your normal activities. To help eliminate the contrast medium from your body, remember to drink plenty of fluids.
- Exam results: All MRI exams are read by a breast radiologist.
- Rapid results are essential not only for your peace of mind, but also for your physician to begin planning your treatment immediately, if necessary. After the scan has been read, the results are sent to your physician, who will discuss them with you.
The combination of MR imaging and mammography can provide a cost-effective way of improving life expectancy for women who have an increased risk of breast cancer, according to a study authored by Mass General Imaging radiologist Janie M Lee.
Starting breast cancer screening as early as age 25 may help women who carry a genetic mutation linked to a higher risk of cancer live longer, according to a U.S. study.
Learn about MRI exams at Mass General Imaging. See what MRI scanners and images look like, understand MRI safety, and learn about the specialty-trained radiologists who interpret every scan.
Each radiologist at Mass General Imaging is a specialist in a particular area of the body. Department of Radiology Chairman Emeritus James H. Thrall, MD, explains how patients benefit from the additional specialty training our physicians have completed.