Breast MRI

Breast MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) uses a magnetic field and radio waves to produce images of breast tissue. This highly advanced technology is used for both screening and diagnostic exams, providing valuable information in the detection and characterization of breast disease. Breast MRI is a particularly useful tool for patients who are at higher risk for developing breast cancer.


About Breast MRI

Breast MRI is not a replacement for mammography; it’s simply a different imaging technique that provides additional information. This noninvasive technology has a higher sensitivity than any other modality, making it an especially beneficial safeguard for high-risk patients. Breast MRI is able to accurately measure the size and extent of a tumor – information that is essential for surgical and treatment planning. It also plays an important role in post-surgical and post-treatment evaluations.


For some patients, physicians will request additional imaging, like breast ultrasound [LINK], contrast-enhanced mammography [LINK], or even needle biopsy of the breast [LINK]. Keep in mind that these exams are more likely to rule out breast cancer than to end with a cancer diagnosis! Regardless of the outcome, you are in very capable hands with ARA Health. Our physicians are subspecialized in breast imaging, which means they are true experts in their field. And as part of our commitment to helping each patient achieve optimal breast health, we offer breast density and breast cancer risk assessments [LINK], which provide useful information in the creation of personalized screening strategies.

You have questions. We have answers.

Below you'll find answers to some of the questions we are commonly asked by patients. Please contact our ARA Cares Coordinator at (828) 436-5500 with any additional questions or concerns.

Who needs a breast MRI?

The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends breast MRI annually for women who have been identified as high-risk, including the following groups:

  • have a known BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation
  • have a first-degree relative (mother, father, brother, sister or child) with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, and have not had genetic testing themselves
  • have a lifetime risk of breast cancer of 20-25% or greater, according to risk assessment tools that are based mainly on family history
  • had radiation therapy to the chest between the ages of 10 and 30
  • have a genetic disease such as Li-Fraumeni Syndrome, Cowden Syndrome or Bannayan-Riley-Ruvalcaba Syndrome, or have a first-degree relative with one of these

Women who have a lifetime risk of 15-20% of developing breast cancer, or those who have a personal history of breast cancer, should discuss with their primary physician whether adding breast MRI to their annual screenings could be beneficial. Additionally, women with extremely dense breasts may also benefit from breast MRI.

Can I schedule a breast MRI myself?

Breast MRI requires a physician’s order and cannot be scheduled directly by the patient. Our ARA Cares Coordinator can answer your questions or help you obtain a physician’s order.

How do I prepare for a breast MRI?

If you have visited a breast center other than ARA Health, please let us know at the time we schedule your breast MRI so that we may request copies of prior imaging to use for comparison. It’s very important to schedule the breast MRI 7-10 days after the start of your last menstrual cycle, as this is when the breast tissue appears most normal. If you suffer from anxiety or minor claustrophobia, you may consider asking your physician for a mild sedative.

What can I expect during a breast MRI?

Please be prepared for the appointment to last up to an hour, although the scan itself takes just 20-25 minutes. Your Breast MRI will be performed by a trained female technologist who will explain the procedure before it begins. After checking in, you will change into a gown and remove all jewelry. For the exam, you will lie on your stomach with arms up overhead, entering the MRI machine headfirst. Most patients receive intravenous contrast materials to aid in the visualization of the breast tissue. You will be asked to relax, lie very still, and breathe normally throughout the scan. Breast MRI does not require compression of the breast, so there should be no pain or discomfort. You can resume normal activity when your appointment ends.

When will I receive the results?

After your exam, one of our subspecialized radiologists will review your images and fax a report directly to your primary physician.

What should I know about breast cancer?
  • 75-85% of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history.
  • One in eight women will be impacted by breast cancer in her lifetime.
  • When caught early, the five-year survival rate of breast cancer is 99%.
  • Breast cancers found in women under age 50 often are more aggressive, making screening mammography an important health tool for women in their 40s.
  • The cancer incidence rate increases with age, making annual mammography even more important to women ages 50+.
  • Men can also get breast cancer, although it is much less common than it is for women.
What increases my risk for breast cancer?

All women are at risk for developing breast cancer. The two biggest risk factors are being female and getting older. Other factors that increase a person's risk include:

  • being overweight or obese
  • having a sedentary lifestyle
  • drinking more than one alcoholic drink a day
  • exposure to high-dose radiation, particularly before age 30 (e.g. radiation therapy)
  • family history of breast cancer
  • inherited genetic mutations
  • using hormone therapy after menopause
What decreases my risk for breast cancer?

Several factors can decrease a person's risk of breast cancer, including:

  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • exercising regularly, on average 3-4 hours a week
  • one or more full-term pregnancies
  • first full-term pregnancy before age 25
  • breastfeeding for more than 15 months (total months across all children)
  • menopause before age 50
What is breast density?

Breast density measures the amount of fatty, glandular, and fibrous tissue in the breast. Dense breasts have more glandular and fibrous tissue than fat, and the only way to determine this is through a mammogram. Radiologists use a scale approved by the American College of Radiology. Women who have breast density of level A or B have more fatty tissue, while women with breast density of level C or D have more glandular and fibrous tissue, which means they have dense breasts. Dense tissue makes breast cancer more difficult to detect on a mammogram and is also a risk factor for developing breast cancer. Approximately 40% of women over age 40 have dense breast tissue. Women who have been identified as having category C or D density on a mammogram may sit down with our clinical specialist at our Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Clinic to discuss in detail what this means and how to best address it with a supplemental screening plan.

When should I begin annual mammograms?

Experts agree that beginning breast screening at age 40 saves the most lives; however, women who have an increased risk of developing breast cancer should begin them earlier. Understanding your personal risk for developing breast cancer can empower you to make informed decisions about your own breast health. ARA Health's subspecialized breast radiologists, along with the American College of Radiology and Society of Breast Imaging, recommend:

Age 30: All women should undergo a breast cancer risk assessment (especially Black women and those of Ashkenazi Jewish decent).

Age 40: All women should have a 3D screening mammogram and plan to repeat them every 12 months (not just every calendar year).