A woman in a hospital gown prepares for her MRI breast cancer screening scan. She is positioned face down on a MRI scanning bed. Her breasts hang into a special device called a breast coil.
A woman, undergoes a MRI breast cancer screening exam. Unlike other MRI scans, she enters the machine lying face down with her breasts in a special device called a breast coil.

How long is the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exam?

Allow 1 hour for your MRI exam. In most cases, the procedure takes 20 to 30 minutes. If your doctor has ordered an MRI exam of more than one area of the body, please note that each order could require 20 to 30 minutes to complete.

What should I expect before, during and after the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exam?

Before the exam

  • If you have been given an implant card to carry in your wallet, be sure to bring it with you to your MRI appointment.
  • Personal items such as your watch, wallet -- including any credit cards with magnetic strips (they will be erased by the magnet) -- and jewelry/body piercing jewelry should be left at home if possible, or removed prior to the MRI scan. Secured lockers are available to store personal possessions. Other metal objects that need to be left at home or stored in the locker include dentures/partial plants, eyeglasses, hearing aids, hair pins/barrettes, keys, cell phones and beepers.
  • You will be required to change into a hospital gown for the MRI scan.
  • Your breast MRI exam requires an injection of a contrast material called gadolinium. The contrast improves the quality of the scan images. The contrast material will be injected into an IV line that has been inserted into your hand or arm.

During the exam

  • You will lie face down on the MRI scanning bed. Your breasts will hang freely in a special device called a breast coil, which works with the MRI machine to give the best images of the breast tissue.
  • The MRI scanning bed will slide into the MRI machine.
  • As the MRI scan begins, you will hear the equipment making a variety of loud knocking and clicking sounds that will last for several minutes at a time. You will be given ear plugs or headphones to wear to protect your hearing before the procedure begins.
  • You are required to lay perfectly still during the exam.
  • The MRI technologist can see you and is able to talk with you at all times. An intercom system allows two-way communication while you are inside the scanner. You will also be given a call button that you can push to let the technologist know if you are having any problems or concerns.

After the exam

  • Generally, you can resume your usual activities and normal diet immediately. However, if your exam was an MRI breast biopsy, please follow your home-going instruction given to you after the procedure. If you received anesthesia, please follow the home-going instructions given to you by the radiologist (including having a responsible person with you to drive you home).
  • The results of your MRI should be available to your physician within 24 hours after your test, Monday through Friday.
  • Your physician will discuss the test results with you.

Keep in mind. . .

  • Because MRI is still a relatively expensive test, it is important to check if the test will be covered by insurance, a process called “pre-authorization.” Further, not all facilities have MRI machines specifically made for imaging the breast or radiologists capable of interpreting breast MRI results. A center should have the capability of performing MRI-guided biopsies to sample areas of concern not seen on mammography or ultrasound.
  • Please talk to your doctor if you have any concerns or questions about your upcoming MRI exam. Also, if you have questions about any implant you may have in your body, be sure to ask your doctor or MRI technologist.

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