Magnetic resonance imaging is used in certain cases to give detailed images of the breast. It can be useful in younger women, especially when breast tissue is very dense meaning that mammograms may not give much information. MRI scanning may be carried out regularly for women who are at high risk of developing breast cancer because of gene alterations such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 or who have had treatment with radiotherapy to the chest (mantle radiotherapy) for Hodgkins disease in the past. These will normally be organised through the Family History Clinic.
MRI scanning may also be required to look at breast implants that have been used for breast enlargement or breast reconstruction if an ultrasound has suggested that there may be an implant leak.
For people who have been diagnosed with a breast cancer, MRI scanning may be used if the cancer has not shown up clearly on a mammogram, or to monitor the response to non-surgical treatments being given before surgery (neo-adjuvant treatment).
Having an MRI
Magnetic resonance imaging involves using a strong magnetic field and does not involve any X-ray radiation. It is often carried out together with injection of a contrast medium called gadolinium into the vein. MRI scanning will not usually be done if you are pregnant or if you have certain types of metal within your body. You will be asked to fill in a questionnaire first to ensure it is safe for you to have an MRI.
Having an MRI takes between 45 and 60 minutes, and involves lying on your front on a moveable examination table in a tunnel. It is not painful, but you will be asked to stay in one position and some people find this uncomfortable. You may feel slightly warm in the area that is being scanned, and some people don’t like being in an enclosed space. If you think this will be a problem then let us know as sometimes giving a sedative can help. It is quite noisy so you will be given headphones to wear to help with this, and although you will be in the room by yourself the technicians will be able to see and hear you all the time.
Getting MRI Results
The scan has to be reported by two separate radiologists so will not be available for a few days at least. The person arranging the scan for you will be able to tell you how and when you will get the result. MRI scans are very detailed and often show up areas in the breast tissue which ultimately turn out to be harmless but require an ultrasound to try to identify them and a tissue sample taken to be certain. This can be very stressful for you, particularly if you have been already diagnosed with a breast cancer, and your breast care nurse and/or breast specialist will be able to support you with this.