Is Breast MRI Right For Me? Transcript

M. D. Anderson Cancer Center
Date: October 2008
Duration: 0 / 02:43

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The following is a presentation of The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.

A mammogram is the most effective breast cancer screening method for most women beginning at age 40. But, studies show that when women who are at an increased risk for breast cancer have both a mammogram and MRI, there is a greater chance that breast cancer will be detected early, when it is most treatable.

Mammograms provide a picture of the breast tissue taken by low-dose x-ray, a kind of radiation. It’s important to know that the amount of radiation given off during a mammogram is not enough to be harmful.

Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, is different than a mammogram because it provides an image of the breast tissue using a magnetic field, radio waves and computer technology. No radiation is used to create an MRI image. So both the technology used to create the breast image and the image itself are different. 

Mammograms detect 80 to 90 percent of breast cancers, while MRIs detect 95 to 100 percent. So MRI is more likely to detect breast cancer than a mammogram. MRI testing is more sensitive, but less specific. This means that an MRI detects lesions in the breast more often, but these lesions are not always cancer.

During an MRI, a contrast dye is injected into the body and used to help create the image. The contrast is absorbed differently by a tumor than it is by healthy breast tissue. Contrast dye absorbed by lesions will appear as an enhancement in the image. Also, the speed with which the contrast is absorbed helps the radiographer identify suspicious areas in the MRI image. The contrast dye will be absorbed by and wash out of suspicious lesions more quickly.

Breast MRI should be used in addition to mammography in certain women at an increased risk for breast cancer, such as those with the BRCA 1 or 2 gene mutation, or a parent, child or sibling known to have the mutation. Increased risk also is defined as a woman with a lifetime breast cancer risk of 20 to 25 percent or greater using an accepted risk assessment tool predominantly based on family history, or a history of radiation therapy to the chest between the ages of 10 and 30. 

Breast MRI is considerably more expensive than a mammogram and is not always covered by insurance.You should discuss your risk factors with your health care provider to determine if breast MRI is appropriate. Then discuss your provider’s recommendation with your insurance company to determine if the test is covered. 

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