Breast MRI FAQ
Breast MRI screening is recommended on an annual basis for women who are considered high-risk. Generally speaking, high-risk women include those who have had genetic testing or found to have a mutation that puts them at high risk of developing breast cancer, and women with a strong family history of having a mutation or breast cancer. Women who have had breast cancer without a genetic or hereditary predisposition are considered at moderate risk of recurrence and are not necessarily candidates for breast MRI.
Breast MRI is requested by your physician most often in cases where there is an abnormal mammogram or a history of breast cancer in a “first-degree” relative (parent, sibling, or child), or a genetic predisposition to breast cancer. It also can be helpful in screening women who have dense breast tissue, implants, or scar tissue that makes reading a mammogram difficult, or to determine if an implant has ruptured. Breast MRI is also meaningful to distinguish between recurrent tumors from radiation or surgical scar tissue. Breast MRI is most important for women diagnosed with breast cancer to determine the extent of the tumor and to assess the possibility of multiple tumors in the same or opposite breast.
Breast MRI is not useful as a primary screening tool for the general population. Screening is most valuable for high-risk patients and patients with dense breast tissue.
Most breast MRIs require little advance preparation, but a few things can assure your comfort and safety in the breast MRI environment. Please note that you will be required to remove all clothing from the waist up.
- Dress in comfortable clothing without metal zippers or buttons.
- When possible, leave jewelry and other valuables at home.
- Remove any patch medications or any external mechanical devices, or let us know if you’ve been medically instructed not to.
Although a breast MRI is completely safe and painless, some people should not undergo a breast MRI, or will need to make special arrangements. Any of the following conditions may interfere with your breast MRI. Please call us immediately if you are scheduled for a breast MRI and:
- Have a cardiac pacemaker
- Have a prosthetic heart valve
- Have a surgical clip, bone or joint replacement, or any metallic implant
- Have ever held a job in a metal-working industry or have been exposed to metallic dust or splinters
- Have suffered a shrapnel wound
- Have any metallic chips or splinters in the eye
- Are pregnant, or think you might be
- Weigh more than 300 pounds
- Suffer from claustrophobia
During the exam, you will lie on your stomach with your breasts placed in openings in the examination table so that they are suspended away from your chest. MRI doesn’t require that your breasts be compressed, and you shouldn’t experience any discomfort. You will receive an injection of a contrast agent called gadolinium that helps highlight various structures in the breast tissue. The gadolinium is administered through a small intravenous catheter that is placed in a vein in your arm by a certified technologist. Several initials scans will be taken and then repeated after the gadolinium is administered. For best results, you should lie very still, relax, and breathe normally. The technologist can see and hear you at all times, and you can communicate with him or her throughout the entire exam.
Breast MRI is extremely helpful at identifying invasive cancer. However, because breast MRI is highly sensitive, it can result in a higher rate of “false positive” exams. This may sometimes lead to follow-up imaging procedures, such as biopsies, for abnormalities that prove not to be cancerous.
A breast MRI is best performed on a high-field MRI system with breast coils specifically designed for breast imaging. It is very helpful for the reading radiologist to have a dedicated breast imaging work station to assist in his or her interpretation, which Shields offers at all locations that provide breast MRI services.
If you are having the study just to evaluate breast implants, then you will not have to have an injection. However, if there is reason to evaluate your breast tissue to detect breast cancer or other issues, whether you have implants or not, then injection of contrast is necessary. MRI contrast is typically well tolerated and has very few known side effects.
At Shields, breast MRI exams typically cost much less than they do at other facilities, particularly hospitals. Shields’ savings calculator can help you estimate the price of your scan based on scan type and your insurance plan.
Click here to visit the savings calculator and estimate your price.
Breast MRI requires special pre-authorization from your insurance carrier with documentation from your referring physician or surgeon to support why the breast MRI should be covered by your insurance. If you have questions on whether or not your breast MRI is covered, contact your insurance carrier prior to the exam.
A breast MRI is not appropriate for everyone, and is not useful as a primary screening tool for the general population. Only your doctor can determine if a breast MRI is the right diagnostic tool for you, so talk to him or her directly. If your doctor recommends a breast MRI, you can request to have the exam done at Shields, where you’ll find lower prices, advanced technology, and a caring, knowledgeable team. Your doctor will also need to receive authorization from your insurance plan on your behalf, prior to your appointment.
Ask for a referral to Shields MRI.