Breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses magnetic fields to create an image of the breast.
Breast MRI is used in breast cancer screening for women at higher than average risk. It’s also sometimes used in breast cancer diagnosis and staging.
Screening with mammography plus breast MRI is not recommended for women at average risk of breast cancer.
Compared to mammography, screening with breast MRI has some drawbacks [71-72]:
Gadolinium is a contrast agent used in MRI (including breast MRI). Small amounts of gadolinium appear to remain in some organs, including the brain, after an MRI.
Gadolinium may build up in the brain over time in people who get MRIs on a regular basis (such as women at high risk of breast cancer who get regular breast MRI screening) [142-143]. Whether or not this build up has health risks is under study [142-143].
Compared to mammography alone, mammography plus breast MRI can increase detection of breast cancer in [58-61]:
The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) recommends yearly screening with mammography plus breast MRI for some women at higher than average risk of breast cancer, including women with :
NCCN recommends women with an ATM, CDH1, CHEK2, NBN or NF1 gene mutation, consider breast MRI as part of their breast cancer screening .
Both the NCCN and the American Cancer Society (ACS) recommend women at higher risk of breast cancer begin screening at an earlier age than women at average risk [3-4]. Figure 3.5 and Figure 3.6 outline their guidelines.
Talk with your health care provider about breast cancer screening. Together, you can make a screening plan that's right for you.
Insurance coverage of breast MRI varies. You may want to check with your insurance provider before getting breast MRI for screening to see if it's covered.
Mammography plus breast MRI is under study for screening for women with a personal history of breast cancer.
Some studies suggest for women diagnosed with cancer in one breast, mammography plus breast MRI can find breast cancer in the opposite (contralateral) breast may be better than mammography alone [73-75].
One study found mammography plus breast MRI may also help find new cancers in the treated breast (in women who had lumpectomy) .
However, it’s still not clear whether or not breast MRI offers a screening benefit to women with a personal history of breast cancer. So, at this time, it’s not routinely recommended.
Mammography plus breast MRI is under study for screening in women with dense breast tissue [10,77-78,146].
Breast MRI plus mammography may find a few more breast cancers than mammography alone . However, adding breast MRI increases false positive results and it's unclear whether it improves breast cancer outcomes .
Both the NCCN and the ACS state there's not enough evidence at this time to make a recommendation for or against MRI screening for women who have dense breasts [3-4].
Learn more about breast density on a mammogram.
Learn more about breast density and breast cancer risk.
Facts for Life: Breast Cancer Screening & Follow-up Tests
Research Fast Facts: Early Detection