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MRI - magnetic resonance imaging - uses a combination of magnetism, radio waves and computer processing to create very detailed images of nearly every body part and internal structures - from bones and joints to tine blood vessels in the brain. Unlike imaging techniques based on x- ray, with MRI there's no exposure to radiation. It is among the safest and most versatile of imaging methods. Although there is no proof that MRI is unsafe to a developing fetus, women who are or suspect that they may be pregnant should talk to their doctor before having an MRI.
MRI's exceptional ability to distinguish cancerous tumors from other soft tissue makes it particularly valuable in the fight against breast cancer. Yet despite its sensitivity, breast MRI is most effective when used to supplement - not replace - standard cancer screening methods, such as mammograms or ultrasound exams. Used in combination with other imaging techniques, doctors can make a more complete and accurate assessment of the nature and extent of cancer and other breast diseases.
Reasons doctors prescribe breast MRI include:
During an MRI scan, the patient lies on a flat table in a short, tunnel-like structure that houses a powerful magnet. The combination of magnetic field and radio waves temporarily interacts at the subatomic level with water molecules contained within the organ tissues. The scanner detects the energy created by this interaction and a computer reconstructs the information into images that doctors can view on a monitor.
What to Expect
Before the Test
MRI scans generally do not require any special preparation. Unless instructed otherwise, you can take prescribed medications and eat normally on the day of your exam. If your exam is scheduled with sedation, please check with your physician or the MRI department for further instructions.
MRI uses a very strong magnet that may create movement of certain metal objects in the body. This can be very dangerous - even life-threatening - and may also interfere with the scan. Refer to the section on safety and tell the doctor or MRI staff if any of these risks pertain to you.
For the exam, you will need to undress from the waist up. We recommend you wear a two-piece outfit to your appointment and refrain from wearing any jewelry around your neck.
During the Test
MRI exams are painless and take between 30 and 60 minutes to complete. You may be given an injection of contrast material through your veins to enhance the appearance of the breast images. As the test begins, you will lie face down on an examination table with your breasts hanging freely into a cushioned cradle, as the table moves slowly through the scanner's "tunnel." You will be asked to lie very still throughout your examination in order to get clear pictures of your breasts. While in the tunnel, you will hear rhythmic tapping, thumping noises and other sounds caused by the machine's magnetic field. Your technologist will be watching you through a glass window in the next room and will communicate with you through an intercom.
After the Test
Unless you were given a sedative prior to the exam, you are free to leave and carry on with your normal activities once the scan is complete. Women who receive a sedative should not drive immediately following the exam and should arrange a ride home. Nursing mothers are advised not to breast feed for three or four days following an MRI exam if a contrast agent was administered. A bandage will be applied to the site of any intravenous injection, which you can remove after an hour or so. If the site becomes swollen, red or painful after 1-2 days, call your doctor.
Once obtained, your MRI image remains an electronic file. Florida Hospital has the most sophisticated network, viewing stations and software for processing, transmitting, reviewing and storing these electronic images.
One of our physicians, specially trained in interpreting breast images, will examine and interpret your scan and create a report of his/her findings that will be sent to your doctor. Your doctor will present the results and discuss them with you.