Mount Auburn Hospital Radiologist Offers up Facts About Breast MRIs
Breast MRIs: A Vital Test for Women
By J. Pierre Sasson M.D. Mount Auburn Hospital
Breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is one of the breakthrough advancements in technology that is helping combat breast cancer today. Breast MRI is a highly sensitive, noninvasive diagnostic tool that is used in conjunction with mammography and ultrasound to detect, diagnose and monitor breast cancer therapies.
Every woman is at risk for breast cancer and that is why most women have yearly mammograms beginning at the age of 40. For some women who are at higher risk, doctors recommend alternating a breast MRI and mammography every six months to help detect early stage breast cancer.
The MRI machine uses alternating magnetic gradients in combination with radio waves to image anatomy in detail. Before getting a breast MRI, the patient is asked a series of questions to make sure it is safe for her to go into the magnetic field. During the 30 minute scan, the MRI unit is able to take pictures and halfway through the scan, the MRI technologist injects contrast into the patient’s vein. The patient is then re-imaged to record the contrast as it moves through the breast tissue. The contrast allows the imaging machine to see tissues that receives a lot of blood flow, which can help determine if the tissue is cancerous.
Breast MRI is also useful for evaluating women recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Not only can a breast MRI detect the local extent of tumor, it can also find other locations of cancer in the same or opposite breast that may otherwise go undetected. If we detect an abnormality with a breast MRI that is not visible from the other diagnostic techniques, we can perform an MRI-guided biopsy, if needed.
Women should have a breast MRI in conjunction with a mammogram if they have a 20 – 25% greater lifetime risk for developing breast cancer. These include: women who are a 1st-degree relative of someone with the breast cancer gene and women who had radiation to their chests between ages 10-30. Being that October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month we urge you to schedule your mammogram and talk to your doctor to see if you are a candidate for breast MRI.
J. Pierre Sasson, M.D. is the Vice Chair of Mount Auburn Hospital’s Department of Radiology and the Director of MRI Services. He additionally serves as Assistant Professor of Radiology for Harvard Medical School and as the Director of the Radiology Residency Program.