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Breast MRI

When you should consider a breast MRI

Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, produces images using a strong magnet and radio waves. There are several reasons why your doctor may request a breast MRI.If you have:

  • More than 20% lifetime risk of breast cancer based on genetic testing and/or family history
  • A history of radiation to the chest wall
  • A new diagnosis of breast cancer
  • Silicone implants with suspected rupture (or in addition to mammography when mammography is difficult)
  • A need to evaluate response to chemotherapy

Although a breast MRI is highly-accurate in detecting breast cancer, especially with very dense breast tissue, it should not replace mammography screenings.

When you should not have an MRI

Breast MRIs are not for everyone. If you have a pacemaker, defibrillator or other implanted electronic device, you cannot have a MRI. Tell your technologist and your doctor if you have any of these devices, or if you:

  • Are pregnant or suspect you may be pregnant. Your doctor may postpone the exam or choose an alternative exam to reduce the possible risk of exposing your baby to radiation.
  • Have eye, middle ear or other metal implants
  • Have claustrophobia
  • Have shrapnel or non-removed bullets
  • Have aneurysm clips

Your MRI may require contrast to create a better image. If you have allergies or asthma, there is a slight risk of an allergic reaction or an asthma attack. Most reactions are itchiness or hives. In very rare instances, an allergic reaction may cause swelling in your throat or in other areas. Diabetes, heart disease, kidney problems or thyroid conditions also increase your risk of reaction. Tell your technologist or doctor if you experience any of these symptoms during or after your MRI. We are prepared should any type of emergency occur. If after hours, go to the emergency room.

What to expect during a breast MRI

Prior to your scan, you need to remove all metal or electronic objects from your body, including watches, jewelry, cell phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs). These interfere with the magnetic field and can be dangerous if taken into the exam room.

A breast MRI is painless and generally takes 30 - 45 minutes, not including preparation time. You will lie on a movable table. A coil or small antenna-like device may be placed over the body part to be examined. Once positioned, the technologist will move the table into the MRI scanner. The machine makes thumping and tapping sounds. This is normal and we offer earplugs to help block the noise or you may listen to music.

If you feel anxious due to the confining nature of the MRI scanner, talk to your doctor or technologist. A sedative may be prescribed for you to help you relax. We monitor you closely and provide a microphone that enables you to talk to the technician if needed. When your exam is complete, you can leave and resume regular activities. If a sedative is administered, you will need to arrange transportation home.


A radiologist will review your exam images and report the findings to your doctor. Your doctor will then discuss the findings and next steps with you.

Abbreviated screening breast MRI

New screening to detect breast cancer sooner

Novant Health offers abbreviated breast MRI technology, recommended for women who do not have a high risk for cancer, and those with dense breast tissue who want screening beyond the standard mammogram. While mammograms are instrumental in reducing breast cancer mortality, it can miss aggressive cancers, more prevalent in women with dense breasts.

The risks of dense breasts includes:

  • A higher chance of developing breast cancer compared to similar women without dense breasts
  • Increased prevalence of aggressive cancers
  • Reduced early detection since screening mammograms may miss detecting some cancers
  • Higher chance of cancer spreading to lymph nodes and beyond if undetected cancer grows longer

A traditional breast MRI costs an average of $2,800 and takes about 45 minutes. The abbreviated MRI costs less than $400 on average and takes approximately 10 minutes, excluding preparation time. If you think you’re a candidate for abbreviated breast MRI, ask your doctor to make a referral to one of our convenient locations.