Answering Your Questions about Breast MRI
Advanced technology in the detection and diagnosis of breast cancer is now available at South Baldwin Regional Medical Center. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a non-invasive procedure, is now being used to analyze the inside of the breast, providing physicians with a new way to monitor the breast health of their patients.
An MRI is a quick, painless diagnostic exam that helps your doctor monitor your health, inside and out. It is commonly used to look at almost any part of the body: joints, muscles, and internal organs.
The questions and answers below will help in understanding the Breast MRI procedure, when it may be used, and the benefits to the patient.
What is an MRI?
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses radio waves to look at the inside of the human body. MRI is an effective diagnostic tool because it is sensitive, accurate, and delivers high-quality images. Because it is a non-invasive procedure, there are less potential risks to the patient than other diagnostic techniques such as radiation. An MRI often eliminates the need for more costly or invasive tests or exploratory procedures.
When would I need a breast MRI?
An MRI provides your doctor another way of monitoring your breast health. Patients generally receive a breast MRI when they have an increased risk of abnormalities in the breast tissue, to diagnose or treat breast cancer, and as post-operative followup to monitor healing. A breast MRI might be used in the following cases:
- High-risk patients
- Breast cancer, including suspected multiple or bilateral tumors
- Detection of breast cancer in women with breast implants
- Post-operative evaluation
What should I expect?
An MRI involves little more for the patient than lying on a padded table, with a pillow. Once the patient is comfortable, the table is rolled into the MRI machine, which resembles a large tube.
A medical technician will take pictures of the area being examined, using the MRI machine. During the process, it’s important to lie still so that images taken are as clear and accurate as possible. The technician will tell you when you may move between pictures, if you need to.
Sometimes patients receive an injection with a contrast agent (i.e., a colored dye). The injection involves very little discomfort. The dye helps to define contrast in the area(s) being studied.
The MRI machine can be noisy—expect some clicking or rapping noises during the exam. The medical technician will give you ear plugs for your comfort, which will soften the noise but still allow you to hear the technician speak.
The MRI technician is with you at all times and communicates with you throughout the exam. They can also answer any questions you may have.
How does a breast MRI work?
A breast MRI is quite similar to a standard MRI. During the procedure, the patient lies on her stomach on a scanning table. The table has a depression for the patient’s breasts to rest in, which allows for unobstructed viewing by the magnetic signal. Images are taken of the desired area(s) of the breast for further examination. The process takes approximately 30 minutes to an hour.
How do I know if I am a good candidate for breast MRI?
Your primary physician can make the best determination regarding your potential benefit from a breast MRI. However, patients usually fit into one of the following profiles:
- A personal or family history of breast cancer (especially pre-menopausal cancer in a ‘first degree’ relative, i.e., a mother, sister or daughter)
- The presence of breast cancer mutation
- Prior breast cancer in either breast
- A personal history of other, non-breast cancers (especially Hodgkin Lymphoma)
- A personal history of organ transplant (kidney, heart, lung, etc.)
- Hormone replacement therapy
- Abnormal cells or suspected tumor in a previously biopsied area
- Women with dense breast tissue
How does computer-aided-detection enhance breast MRI?
Computer-aided-detection (CAD) can improve efficiency, standardization and quality in women’s imaging programs. The CAD application used at SBRMC is designed exclusively for MRI and automates image processing functions and corrects for patient movement. The result can be a more uniform image processing, better quality images and quicker interpretation of your MRI study.
When is an MRI not a good idea?
An MRI isn’t always suitable for every patient. Certain health conditions or medical treatments may preclude you from having an MRI. These might include patients who have a pacemaker, inner ear implants, metal fragments in one or both eyes, or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Be sure to share your complete medical history with your doctor.
You’ll be asked these routine questions before the MRI is administered, to make sure that you are a candidate for MRI and so that the technicians take appropriate precautions. Discuss any questions you may have with your doctor in advance. They can make the determination as to whether an MRI is appropriate for you.
For more information, contact South Baldwin Regional Medical Center, Imaging Center, 251-949-3508, www.southbaldwinrmc.com.