Benefits of Breast Magnetic Resonance Imaging

  By Robert Friedrich, MD, Radiology Saint Michael’s Hospital

Breast MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) offers benefits to women who have a high risk of breast cancer. There are no known health risks from MRI, which uses radio waves and magnetic fields (not x-rays) to create a 3-dimensional image of the breast. Digital Mammograms are still a very good diagnostic technique and they can detect some types of abnormalities, such as calcium deposits, that breast MRI will miss. But for women with a high risk of breast cancer, for women whose mammograms detect “suspicious” areas, or for women with breast implants or very dense non-fatty breast tissue, breast MRI can detect some breast abnormalities that are difficult or impossible to see on a mammogram.

Who should have breast MRI? For most women, regular mammograms and breast exams are still the best approach for early detection of breast cancer. Your doctor might recommend breast MRI, if:

  • You have a high risk of breast cancer, such as a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer, or a mutation in your BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes.
  • Your mammogram reveals a “suspicious” area.
  • You have a lump in your breast that doesn’t show up on your mammogram or on ultrasound.
  • You have or have had cancer in one breast; your doctor may recommend MRI of the other breast.
  • You have a breast implant that might be leaking or ruptured.
  • You have been treated for Hodgkin’s Disease
  • You have breast implants, scarring, or very dense breast tissue, any of which can interfere with a mammogram.

Breast MRIs carry the risk of a “false positive” test result—areas that look suspicious but turn out to be harmless. For many women with a high risk of breast cancer, ruling out cancer is worth the risk.

The Bottom Line: Keep doing regular breast self-exams. Keep having regular clinical breast exams and mammograms. These are still very good methods for early detection of breast cancer. And if you think you are a candidate for breast MRI, talk with your doctor.

Dr. Robert Friedrich is a board-certified Radiologist at Saint Michael’s Hospital, Stevens Point

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