Breast MRI uses Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to look specifically at the breast. It is a non-invasive procedure that doctors can use to determine what the inside of the breast looks like without having to do surgery or flatten the breast (as in a mammogram). Each exam produces hundreds of images of the breast, cross-sectional in all three directions (side-to-side, top-to-bottom, front-to-back), which are then read by a radiologist. No radioactivity is involved, and the technique is believed to have no health hazards in general. The hope is that such non-invasive studies will contribute to our progress in learning how to predict the behavior of tumors, and in selecting proper treatments. Breast MRI is an evolving technology and should not replace standard screening and diagnostic procedures (clinical and self exams, mammogram, fine needle aspiration or biopsy).
MRI has been shown to detect small breast lesions that are sometimes missed by mammography, sonography and physical examination. It is also an excellent technique for imaging breast implants.
For MRI of the breast, the patient lies on her stomach with both breasts hanging freely into a cushioned recess containing the signal receiver (also known as the breast coil). The entire bed on which she is lying is advanced into the opening of the magnet (a tube-like machine that looks like a giant donut–open at both ends). The subject will be asked to lie still for up to 15 minutes at a time while the computer acquires the images; the total examination is made up of several scans, usually 5 to 15 minutes in length and the patient is usually in the magnet for 40-60 minutes.