Breast MRI

Breast screening program

Breast MRI used for women who have complex breast conditions

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a widely used and safe test that uses magnetic fields and a computer to create detailed pictures (images) of breasts. MRI does not use radiation.

For women who have complex breast conditions or suspicious breast tissue, MRI can be used to help diagnose, plan procedures and measure the results of treatment. Also, MRI-guided biopsy and wire localization may be used to identify suspicious breast tissue.

Why would a Breast MRI be needed?

A breast MRI examination can be an important tool in a number of situations, such as:

  • The diagnosis of a tumor. Imaging with breast MRI can help identify the extent of a tumor. It also can help to identify other sites of a tumor in that breast or the other breast.
  • Help with surgical planning.
  • For patients with a prior history of breast cancer. Because breast MRI can distinguish between a surgical scar and a recurrent tumor, this test is important to these patients who are at an increased risk for new breast cancer sites. Breast MRI can often be more effective in early detection than traditional mammography and ultrasound examinations.
  • For individuals with a strong family history of breast cancer or those who have tested positive for the cancer gene associated with breast cancer. A Breast MRI can provide detailed images, especially of dense breast tissue.
  • Locating abnormal tissue that can be felt but cannot be seen on the mammogram or ultrasound.
  • Evaluating breast implants. The images produced by the MRI help the radiologist to see around the implants to the surrounding breast tissue. Breast MRI can also show if implants are intact.
  • Identifying if diseased tissue remains after a lumpectomy.

What are the advantages to a Breast MRI?

  • Precise images
  • Sensitive to tiny tumors, such as those that are too small to feel or be highlighted in a mammogram or ultrasound. This aids in early detection and can save someone from having to undergo surgery.

The one disadvantage to breast MRI is that it can be too sensitive and can pick up normal tissue, which can lead to additional studies and negative biopsies.

Details about the Breast MRI exam

A breast MRI exam is safe, easy and generally lasts 60 minutes. Patients with certain metallic and battery-powered implants cannot have an MRI. Let the MRI staff know if you have a pacemaker, an aneurysm clip, inner ear implants or any other metal implants. Patients and anyone who wants to stay with the patient during the MRI should check with the MRI staff before entering the scan room.

Before your Breast MRI

  • Obtain a referral from your doctor that lists the reasons for the exam.
  • Schedule the breast MRI for the middle of your menstrual cycle (between the 7th and 20th day). This is when the breasts are less likely to show benign hormonal effects and when the best images can be taken.
  • Have the most recent mammography films sent to the MRI Department before your MRI appointment. The radiologist (a doctor who specializes in radiologic tests) will compare the films to the breast MRI images.

On the day of the MRI

  • The technologist will explain the exam and answer any questions.
  • You will change into a gown and remove all jewelry and personal belongings before entering the MRI room.
  • You will be helped onto the table and made comfortable in a face-down position. Both breasts will hang freely into an opening in the table top. The breast will not be compressed during the MRI.
  • The table will move into the opening of the magnet.
  • You will be asked to lie completely still while the scanner takes the images of both breasts. This will take approximately 30 minutes.
  • Near the end of the exam, a contrast agent called gadolinium will be injected into a vein in the arm. The contrast will move into the bloodstream and highlight the blood flow to any tumors or abnormal tissue. Gadolinium is not given to women who are pregnant or nursing infants.


St. Luke's University Health Network uses the most advanced MRI equipment and breast imaging techniques available in the region. The equipment meets the highest standards and has been accredited by the American College of Radiology.

About the Breast MRI Staff

The St. Luke’s University Health Network Breast Care and Woman's Imaging Center is under the direction of Hal Folander, MD, Chief of Radiology. The center is staffed by a team of radiologists who are board-certified by the American College of Radiology and technologists who are accredited by the American Registry of Radiological Technologists. These health care professionals are uniquely qualified to provide the excellent clinical care that patients demand and deserve.