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Johns Hopkins Medical Imaging

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Breast MRI

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a diagnostic exam that uses a combination of a large magnet, radio waves and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.

MRI, used with mammography and breast ultrasound, can be a useful diagnostic tool. Recent research has found that MRI can locate some small breast lesions sometimes missed by mammography. It can also help detect breast cancer in women with breast implants and in younger women who tend to have dense breast tissue.

Why Choose Johns Hopkins Medical Imaging?

Johns Hopkins Medical Imaging brings the world-class expertise of Johns Hopkins to your community. Why does expertise matter? Because you matter. Here is how we do it:

  • Physician Experts. We set the standard for other radiologists around the world.
  • #1 Radiology Department. We are the top-ranked radiology department by U.S. News and World Report
  • State-of-the-Art Technology. Doing the right study with high quality increases accuracy.
  • Your Safety Is Always Our Priority. We take comprehensive safety measures to minimize any possible risk. 

Who should get a breast MRI?

The most recent guidelines from the American Cancer Society include screening MRI with mammography for certain high-risk women. This option should be considered for the following:

  • Women with BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation (BRCA1 is a gene, which, when altered, indicates an inherited susceptibility to cancer. BRCA2 is a gene, which, when altered, indicates an inherited susceptibility to breast and/or ovarian cancer.)
  • Women with a first-degree relative (mother, sister, and/or daughter) with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, if they have not yet been tested for the mutation
  • Women with a 20% to 25% or greater lifetime risk of breast cancer, based on one of several accepted risk assessment tools that look at family history and other factors
  • Women who have had radiation treatment to the chest between the ages of 10 and 30, such as for treatment of Hodgkin disease
  • Women with the genetic disorders Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Cowden syndrome, or Bannayan-Riley-Ruvalcaba syndrome; or those who have a first degree relative with the syndrome

How do I prepare for a breast MRI?

PRECAUTIONS: If you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant, please check with your doctor before scheduling the exam. We will discuss other options with you and your doctor.

EAT/DRINK: You may eat, drink and take medications as usual, unless your health care provider tells you otherwise.

CLOTHING: You must completely change into a patient gown and lock up all personal belongings. A locker will be provided for you to use. Please remove all piercings and leave all jewelry and valuables at home.

ALLERGY: If you have had an allergic reaction to contrast that required medical treatment, contact your ordering physician to obtain the recommended prescription. You will likely take this by mouth 24, 12 and two hours prior to examination.

ANTI-ANXIETY MEDICATION: If you require anti-anxiety medication due to claustrophobia, contact your ordering physician for a prescription. Please note that you will need some else to drive you home.

STRONG MAGNETIC ENVIRONMENT: If you have metal within your body that was not disclosed prior to your appointment, your study may be delayed, rescheduled or canceled upon your arrival until further information can be obtained.

When you call to make an appointment, it is extremely important that you inform if any of the following apply to you:

  • You have a pacemaker or have had heart valves replaced
  • You have any type of implantable pump, such as an insulin pump
  • You have metal plates, pins, metal implants, surgical staples or aneurysm clips
  • You are pregnant or think you might be pregnant
  • You have any body piercing
  • You are wearing a medication patch
  • You have permanent eye liner or tattoos
  • You have ever had a bullet wound
  • You have ever worked with metal (for example, a metal grinder or welder)
  • You have metallic fragments anywhere in the body
  • You are not able to lie down for 30 to 60 minutes

Based on your medical condition, your health care provider may require other specific preparation.

What happens during a breast MRI?

Breast MRI procedures take place inside of a large tube-like structure, open on both ends where you must lie perfectly still for quality images. Due to the loud noise of the MRI machine, earplugs are required and will be provided.

While the breast MRI procedure itself causes no pain, having to lie still for the length of the procedure might cause some discomfort or pain, particularly in the case of a recent injury or invasive procedure such as surgery. The technologist will use all possible comfort measures and complete the procedure as quickly as possible to minimize any discomfort or pain.

What happens after a breast MRI?

Generally, there is no special type of care required after a breast MRI scan. You may resume your usual diet and activities, unless your health care provider advises you differently. Additionally you should know:

  • Plan to move slowly when getting up from the scanner table to avoid any dizziness or lightheadedness from lying prone for the length of the procedure. If any sedatives were taken for the procedure, you may be required to rest until the sedatives have worn off. You will also need to avoid driving.
  • If contrast was used during your procedure, you may be monitored for a period of time for any side effects or reactions to the contrast, such as itching, swelling, rash, or difficulty breathing.
  • If you notice any pain, redness, and/or swelling at the IV site after you return home following your procedure, you should notify your health care provider, as this could indicate an infection or other type of reaction.
  • Nursing mothers may choose not to breastfeed for 12 to 24 hours after a breast MRI with contrast.

Your health care provider may give you additional or alternate instructions after the procedure, depending on your particular situation.

Additional resources

Learn more about breast MRI in the Johns Hopkins Health Library.