Breast MRI is a non-invasive diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets and radio frequencies, instead of x-rays to produce detailed images of the breast.

MRI may show problems in the breast that cannot be seen on an X-ray, ultrasound or CT scan. The MRI records pictures that show your breast structure; tissue damage or disease (such as infection, inflammation or lump). MRI may be done with or without and IV injection of contrast (dye) depending upon the indication for the test. MRI does not replace mammography, but may be used if additional information is considered necessary by your doctor.


MRI of the breast is not a replacement for mammography or ultrasound imaging but rather a supplemental tool that has many important uses, including:

  • Screening women at high risk for breast cancer such as women who carry the breast cancer gene or because of a strong family history have a 20 percent or greater lifetime risk of developing breast cancer
  • Determining the extent of breast cancer and to screen the opposite breast after a new diagnosis so the best treatment can be determined
  • Evaluating breast tissue changes during treatment for breast cancer
  • Evaluating lumpectomy sites in the years following breast cancer treatment
  • Evaluating breast implants to determine whether silicone implants have ruptured


Guidelines about eating and drinking before an MRI exam vary with the specific exam and also with the facility. For some types of exams, you will be asked to fast for 8-12 hours. Unless you are told otherwise, you may follow your regular daily routine and take medications as usual.

The radiologist should also know if you have any serious health problems or if you have recently had surgery. Some conditions, such as severe kidney disease may prevent you from being given contrast material for an MRI. If there is a history of kidney disease, it may be necessary to perform a blood test to determine whether the kidneys are functioning adequately.

You may be asked to wear a gown during the exam or you may be allowed to wear your own clothing if it is loose-fitting and has no metal fasteners. Jewelry and other accessories should be left at home if possible or removed prior to the MRI scan. Because they can interfere with the magnetic field of the MRI unit, metal and electronic objects are not allowed in the exam room.

If possible, obtain prior mammograms and make them available to the radiologist at the time of the current exam.

Please notify our scheduling department and technologists if you believe you may be pregnant. MRI has been used for scanning patients since the 1980’s with no reports of any ill effects on pregnant women or their babies. However, because the baby will be in a strong magnetic field, pregnant women should not have this exam unless the potential benefit from the MRI is assumed to outweigh the potential risks.


The exam requires you to lie on your stomach on a coil that has openings for your breasts. Your arms will be positioned above your head. If contrast material will be used in the MRI exam, a nurse or technologist will insert an intravenous (IV) line into a vein in your hand or arm. A saline solution may be used. The solution will drip through the IV to prevent blockage of the IV line until the contrast material is injected. Be sure to let the technologist know if something is uncomfortable, since discomfort increases the chance that you will feel the need to move during the exam. Even very small movements can limit the ability to get a quality exam.

You will hear knocking sounds during the exam. Earplugs are available. It is very important to hold completely still during the exam. Otherwise, repeat scans may be needed.

You will be moved into the magnet of the MRI unit and the radiologist and technologist will leave the room while the MRI examination is performed. You will not have any pain from the magnetic field or radio waves used for the MRI test.

The entire exam usually takes 30-60 minutes.