The role of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in breast cancer detection reflects the sensitivity of high-powered magnets to produce detailed pictures of areas inside the body. The equipment creates images of the breast or other organs from every angle, including side to side and top to bottom. A radiologist interprets the images in making a diagnosis.
Mammography and ultrasound are the standard diagnostic tools for most women, but MRI provides an added way to evaluate women with a known diagnosis of breast cancer or who carry the genes BRCA1 or BRCA2, which put them at special risk for breast cancer.
MRI may also be appropriate for women who have breast implants or scars from previous surgeries, but its use in these cases is specifically determined by the woman's health history.
What to expect
The patient experiences no physical discomfort during MRI.
For an evaluation of the breasts, the patient lies on her stomach on the scanning table to allow her breasts to drop into a hollow depression. Inside the depression is a coil that detects a magnetic signal. The table then moves inside a large tube that contains the magnet. The patient is given an injection of contrast agent to improve the clarity of the images of the tissue or tumor.
Imaging sessions typically take about one hour.
Closed vs. Open MRI
While entering an enclosed space is intimidating to many patients, closed MRI equipment contains a more powerful magnet than "open" MRI systems, meaning the images it produces are more detailed, more precise and feature greater resolution.
The closed MRI machine at Woman's combines the shortest possible tube length with a high-strength scanner as a way to reduce patient concerns without sacrificing image quality.
The shorter tube length means a patient who tends to get claustrophobic will be able to tolerate the procedure a lot better than in a regular MRI machine that is longer in length. The person's body does not have to go so far into the tube, so she gets the higher resolution of the closed MRI with the less claustrophobic aspects of the open MRI.
Diagnostic uses for MRI
- Prenatal fetal imaging: further evaluation of fetal abnormalities detected on ultrasound
- Premature or ill infants: evaluation of brain and spine abnormalities which are often better demonstrated with MRI as compared to CT scan or ultrasound
- Adult female pelvis: evaluation of patients with ovarian cancer, uterine fibroids and conditions that cause infertility
MRI is one of many types of imaging services offered at Woman's.