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Breast MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is a diagnostic test that uses a magnet, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of the breast. Unlike mammography, MRI scans do not use ionizing radiation to produce images. A dye (Gadolinium) is injected into a vein, which is picked up by breast tissue.  How much and how fast the gadolinium is picked up by normal breast tissue compared to abnormal tissue allow the radiologist to find breast cancer.

Breast MRI is very accurate in detecting most invasive breast cancer – more effective than mammography – so the National Comprehensive Cancer Network and the American Cancer Society recommends MRI screening in addition to mammography for some women at high risk for developing breast cancer. MRI may sometimes be used in conjunction with breast ultrasound to further evaluate breast abnormalities.

MRI should not be used as the only screening tool. Mammography is still needed as the first examination and often finds early breast cancer. Ultrasound may also be needed to evaluate a finding seen on MRI or to evaluate a symptom or mammographic finding.

When is a breast MRI recommended?

Experts recommend that women who are at high risk for breast cancer have annual screening mammograms and screening MRIs. The age to start depends on your genetic and family history which you can discuss with your health care provider.

Why do doctors recommend breast MRI?

There are a few common reasons breast MRIs are recommended. They include:

  • screening for breast cancer in women who are at high risk
  • determining the extent  of cancer after a recent breast cancer diagnosis (staging breast cancer)
  • evaluating abnormalities seen on mammography
  • evaluating former lumpectomy sites for recurring cancer
  • evaluating the effectiveness of certain types of chemotherapy prior to breast cancer surgery
  • evaluating breast implants that may have ruptured (this study does not need Gadolinium)

Breast MRI is different from both mammography and breast ultrasound. Unlike mammography, it does not use radiation, and it evaluates how the breast tissue is picking up the Gadolinium.  Sometimes Mammography, MR and Ultrasound are needed to evaluate the findings and make an accurate diagnosis.

Breast MRI at Beaumont

At Beaumont, we offer a variety of breast cancer screening and diagnostic tests, including breast MRI, screening and diagnostic mammography, digital and tomosynthesis mammography, diagnostic ultrasound, image guided interventions (stereotactic, ultrasound and MRI), and scintimammography. We are also currently in a clinical trial of 3-D breast whole breast screening ultrasound called SoftVue® at Beaumont, Dearborn that could prove to be very helpful in diagnosing breast cancer – especially when dense breast tissue makes mammograms difficult to interpret. 

When you have a breast MRI, you should choose a facility that has expertise in performing and interpreting the results of an MRI. Beaumont is a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence in Michigan, and we offer all our patients leading edge mammography and breast cancer diagnostic services.

Talk to your doctor to find out whether a screening or diagnostic MRI of the breast is right for you. And don’t forget to schedule your annual screening mammogram. Call 800-328-8542 today to make an appointment.

Note that due to differences in machine type and computer programming, if an MRI is done at one Beaumont facility, then all subsequent imaging and intervention related to the MRI should be done at the same facility.