Frequently Asked Questions About Breast MRI

Breast MRI with doctor and patient talking1. Is a Breast MRI Scan an alternative to Mammography?

Breast MRI provides additional information to complement a mammogram. It is not an alternative or replacement for mammograms.

The hope is that such non-invasive studies will contribute to our progress in learning how to predict tumors’ behavior and select proper treatments. Breast MRI does not replace standard screening and diagnostic procedures (clinical self-exams, mammograms, fine needle aspiration, or biopsy).

2. What does a breast MRI show?

MRI has been shown to detect small breast cancers that are sometimes missed by mammography, and MRI can successfully image the dense breast (usually found in younger women) for underlying and unsuspected breast cancers. Breast implants may be evaluated faster, safer, and with less patient discomfort.

Cancer involving the margins of breast masses may be better visualized with a breast MRI. The extent of breast cancer may be underestimated with mammography. One in three women will have their surgical planning altered based on the results of the breast MRI. Proper surgical planning should result in a better outcome for the patient.

The shape and vascular enhancement pattern of abnormalities can be analyzed. In very dense breasts, abnormalities may be more readily detected than by other imaging exams.

4. Is the contrast agent, gadolinium, safe? 

Gadolinium contrast is a very safe drug in almost all patients. Patients receiving dialysis should be scheduled to have dialysis right after an MRI with contrast to ensure the contrast agent is cleared from the kidneys. A number of different gadolinium agents are on the market. The Breast Center constantly evaluates these agents and selects the formulation with the highest safety profile for our patients. 

More on Gadolinium Injection Safety. from the American Society of Breast Imaging

5. Are you breastfeeding or pregnant?

If you are breastfeeding, you may still have a breast MRI. You should nurse or pump prior to the test. A small amount of gadolinium is excreted in the breast milk. If your baby has normal kidneys, the small amount of gadolinium that is consumed will be readily eliminated in the urine.

If you are pregnant, it is likely that you will not be able to have a breast MRI. Breast MRI requires that you lie on your stomach for a period of time that may be uncomfortable during pregnancy. In addition, the gadolinium agents used for breast MRI have not been approved for use in pregnant women.

6. Does insurance cover breast MRI?

Most major health insurance carriers cover breast MRI, although you may have an out-of-pocket cost. If your health plan requires you to have a written referral for this type of exam, please be sure to obtain the necessary paperwork prior to your appointment so that we can bill your carrier directly. Some carriers require pre-authorization for breast MRI. We will work with your doctor to help obtain insurance coverage for your procedure. An MRI scheduler will discuss your insurance and estimated costs at the time of scheduling. 


Preparing for your breast MRI