For some women, mammography is simply not enough. Your doctor may tell you to get an MRI to get more information. So when should an MRI be part of your screening?
First, an MRI is drastically different from mammography. A mammogram is good a for a yearly screening. It uses x-rays to look for tumors in the breast. An MRI uses an intravenous contrast material and magnet and radio waves. An MRI is more sensitive, but is not usually used as a screening tool because it can give false positives for cancer. An MRI should be used to examine areas that mammography has already identified as suspicious. MRIs can also be used on women who have already been diagnosed with breast cancer to determine the size and scope of the cancer.
An MRI produces cross-sections of the body that are very detailed, but is somewhat invasive. A technician will inject a material into your veins called gadolinium so the MRI can clearly see details in the breast tissue.
MRI is more expensive that mammography, but if your insurance pays for mammography, it will probably pay for an MRI if you can demonstrate that you’re at higher risk. But it’s always a good idea to check with your insurance first.
It’s important to know what to expect when you go in for an MRI. For a breast MRI, the technician will tell you to lie down face first on the table. There will be a platform specially designed for the test that has openings for the breast so they’re not compressed. The platforms contain the sensors the MRI needs for the exam and it’s important to stay still throughout the test. It can be claustrophobic and the machine makes loud clicks and buzzes that can be disturbing to some patients. Sometimes headphones can be used to muffle the sound, but in any case ear plugs are always provided. We wrote a previous blog on how to approach claustrophobia if you have anxiety about your scan. And here are videos on What to Expect when getting a MRI at GMRI.
If you have any more questions about using MRI in breast cancer screenings, contact us.