Breast MRI vs. Mammogram: What You Need to Know

September 4, 2018 – 3 min read

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breast mri vs mammogram

For the last 30 years, American women have been advised to get yearly mammograms, but in another 30 years, the breast MRI may become the imaging tool of choice for early detection of breast cancer. Here’s a comparison of these two options.


What is a Mammogram?

A mammogram is a low-dose X-ray that shows changes in breast tissue, sometimes up to three years before a cancer can be felt by the patient. While this is very effective in most situations, it is not so accurate for those with dense breast tissue.


How Is a Mammography Done?

The machine itself is a tall X-ray machine that the woman stands in front of. There is a clear plastic plate onto which the technician places a breast and another that firmly presses the breast from above. There is some pressure and a slight bit of discomfort, but the process is fast and you don’t even have to change into a hospital gown.


How to Prepare for a Mammogram

Because deodorant shows up in an X-ray as white spots, you shouldn’t wear deodorant, perfume, or powder on the day of your exam. You can wear street clothes, but you may want to avoid dresses so it’s easier to expose your top. Don’t wear clothes with metal fasteners and don’t wear jewelry, as metal can skew the results.

These exams work best in comparison, so ideally you should get mammograms on a regular basis. Talk with your doctor to determine how often you should come in for this 10 minute procedure.


What Is a Breast MRI?

An MRI is an extremely sensitive and highly specialized noninvasive imaging technique. Using a powerful magnetic field, radio frequency pulses (not radiation or X-rays) and a computer are used to product highly detailed images.

Traditional MRI machines feature a large, cylindrical tube surrounded by a circular magnet. A narrow table slides into the center of the machine. For a breast MRI, you lie face down on a table with openings to accommodate your breasts. This allows your breasts to be imaged without compression.

It is very important to be still during the procedure, and sometimes, straps or bolsters are offered to help. If you are claustrophobic, ask your doctor for a mild sedative to help you relax or consider an open MRI.

The technician sits at a computer and desk in another room, but they can see and hear you. These machines can be quite noisy, so you may want to wear ear plugs. These exams take about 45 minutes to an hour and a half.


How to Prepare for a Breast MRI

If you have any metal within your body, let your doctor know before the MRI. Again, metal can obscure these images. Jewelry, hair clips, metal zippers, and removable dental work should all be avoided or removed before your breast MRI.


Mammograms are typically recommended for routine screenings, and a breast MRI is a great supplemental tool to help with cancer screening or to determine if silicone implants have ruptured. To set up a breast MRI at our imaging center, contact us today. At American Health Imaging, we focus on imaging so you can focus on your health.