Breast MRI

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the breast is an important new approach in which to diagnose and characterize abnormalities in the breasts. Because images produced by MRI are very detailed, this technology can detect small changes or abnormalities.

Breast MRI frequently can be used to determine whether or not an area is cancerous, thereby avoiding unnecessary biopsies; it is especially helpful for evaluation of very dense breasts. This exam is also used to check for leakage or rupture of breast implants.

MRI does not take the place of traditional breast cancer screening methods: annual physical exams by your health-care provider, monthly breast self-examinations, and annual screening mammography for women who are 40 years of age or more.

What to Expect

You will lie on your stomach on a table that moves within a large magnet. Both ends of the magnet are open, and you will be able to communicate with the technologist through a two-way intercom. Your chest will be elevated somewhat, on a padded “coil,” which sends and receives the radio frequency waves used in this technology. Your breasts will hang freely in the coil, and the female technologist will make you as comfortable as possible.

During the scan, as with all MRI exams, you will hear various noises, ranging from a buzzing to a loud knocking. You will be given earplugs to diminish the noise.

Because an MRI exam can take images or “slices” from various angles, several sequences or sets of images will be taken. Each sequence will last from one to 10 minutes, and the technologist will inform you before the scanning noise begins. The total exam time for a scan can range from 30 to 60 minutes. You must lie very still during each sequence, in order to produce clear diagnostic images.

Depending on your symptoms or prior medical history, you may be given an intravenous contrast agent for your scan. The technologist will explain this procedure to you if it is necessary.

How to Prepare

When you schedule your appointment, we will inform you about any specific preparations depending upon the specific procedure your doctor has ordered. Please contact the Scheduling Department at 949.764-5573 if you have any questions.

If you have a pacemaker (unless MRI safe pacemaker), or breast tissue expanders, please contact your physician as you are unable to have an MRI procedure.

Because the MRI unit uses a very large, strong magnet, you will be asked to remove and store jewelry, keys, wire-frame eyeglasses and any loose metal objects. You may be asked to change into a gown unless you are wearing clothing that is metal-free. Please wear comfortable clothing with no metals, buttons or zippers. Preferably wear a sweat outfit or active wear.

You will need to complete a detailed screening sheet, on which you will be asked whether or not you have any metal or other devices implanted in your body that may interfere with the scan or cause injury to you. If you have any concerns or questions about that aspect of the procedure, please ask the technologist before you enter the room.

We also are happy to answer your questions by telephone at any time before your appointment.

If you have hair extensions with metal clips, please remove them prior to the MRI procedure.

Options exist for patients who suffer from claustrophobia or who are unable to lie still for several minutes at a time. Because no radiation is involved, a family member or friend can remain in the scan room with you to offer comfort and support. Anyone who enters the scan room will need to be screened by our staff.

A second option is taking anxiety-relieving medication such as Valium, which your physician can prescribe for you. If you are planning on taking anti-anxiety medication for this procedure, you must arrive 1 hour prior to the procedure to sign your consent prior to taking your medication. If you are already medicated, your consent will not be valid and your procedure may need to be rescheduled. Also, be aware that you cannot drive for several hours after you take this medication, so you will need to arrange for transportation home.

If you have a programmable shunt, you will need to go to your physician’s office immediately after the MRI to have it re-programmed. Please schedule this in advance with your physician’s office.

If your physician has ordered your MRI procedure with radiographic contrast:

  • You should inform your physician if you have any allergies. If you have been told you are allergic to contrast or have ever had a reaction to Iodine or any form of contrast media, your doctor may prescribe medications to reduce the risk of an allergic reaction. A Radiology nurse should contact you. If you have not been contacted by a Radiology nurse at least 24 hours prior to your appointment, please contact the Imaging Scheduler immediately.
  • If you have diabetes, kidney problems, lupus, surgery on your kidneys or multiple myeloma, you must have lab work that includes a BUN and Creatinine performed within 30 days of your exam. If you are over the age of 65 you must have lab work within 90 days of your exam. This provides us with information regarding your current kidney function. Please call your physician if you have not had this blood work.
  • If you are currently receiving Dialysis; please schedule your dialysis to follow your procedure with Contrast or the following day. It is imperative you have dialysis no later than the following day after you have received contrast for your procedure.
  • We encourage you to hydrate with oral fluids at least 24 hours prior to your study. You may have only clear liquids as well as your necessary medications 2 hours before your exam.

If you have prior studies outside of Hoag for a comparison, please bring them to your appointment.

Please complete, print out and bring with you the following forms to your appointment:

Outpatient Medication Reconciliation form (for Breast Center and Interventional Procedures) - Download PDF

For More Information

Side Effects/Follow-Up Care

Side effects and complications

Magnetic resonance imaging does not cause any known long-term side effects. You may experience temporary ringing in the ears, similar to the sensation following a loud music concert. You should be able to avoid ringing by wearing earplugs during the exam. While MRI examination has no known effects upon a fetus, please let the staff know if you may be pregnant. In some cases, your scan may be modified or rescheduled later during your pregnancy.

Follow-up care

The exam itself requires no follow-up care.


Locations where NHRA provides Breast MRI services