The Critically Important Breast Cancer Screening You Might Need (Hint: It’s Not A Mammogram)

This post is sponsored by Pink Breast Centers. This is Part 3 of a four-part series encouraging women to get screened for breast cancer in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month. Read Part 1, Part 2, or Part 4

Should you get a breast MRI? 

“While they’re not as publicized as mammograms, MRIs are critically important screenings – especially for women who have a higher-than-average risk of developing breast cancer,” Lisa Sheppard, MD, a breast radiologist with ImageCareRadiology, shares. ImageCare has diagnostic imaging centers throughout New Jersey. 

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), this includes women with genetic factors that put them at increased risk including: 

  • A known BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation.
  • A first-degree relative – a mother, father, brother, sister or child – with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, but have not had genetic testing themselves.
  • A genetic disease such as Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Cowden syndrome or Bannayan-Riley-Ruvalcaba syndrome – or first-degree relatives with one of these syndromes.
  • A lifetime risk of breast cancer of 20-25% or greater according to risk assessments based on family history.
  • Had radiation therapy to the chest for another type of cancer, such as Hodgkin’s disease, when they were between the ages of 10 and 30 years.

“The ACS also recommends women with a moderately increased risk of breast cancer talk with their doctors about the possibility of adding breast MRI screening to their yearly mammogram,” Dr. Sheppard advises. 

This includes women with:

  • A lifetime risk of breast cancer of 15-20% according to risk assessments based on family history.
  • A personal history of breast cancer, ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) or abnormal breast cell changes such as atypical ductal hyperplasia or atypical lobular hyperplasia.
  • Extremely dense breasts or unevenly dense breasts when viewed by mammograms.

For these women, combined screenings of mammograms and MRI should start at age 30 and continue as long as the woman is in good health.

How a Breast MRI is Performed

Unlike a mammogram that uses X-rays to create images of the breast, MRI uses magnets and radio waves to produce detailed three-dimensional images of breast tissue. A contrast dye may be injected into your arm before the test to help any potentially cancerous breast tissue show up more clearly. 

“You then lie on your stomach on a padded platform with cushioned openings for your breast,” Dr. Sheppard details. “Each opening is surrounded by a breast coil – a signal receiver that works with the MRI unit to create the image. The platform then slides into the center of the tube-shaped MRI machine. You don’t feel the magnetic field or radio waves around you, but you will hear a loud, thumping sound. You need to remain still during the test that takes 30 to 45 minutes.” 

Because cancers need to increase their blood supply to grow, the contrast dye becomes more concentrated in areas of cancer growth. More tests may be needed after the breast MRI to confirm whether or not any suspicious areas are actually cancer.

“If the MRI reveals an abnormality, you’ll want to have an MRI-guided breast biopsy (a procedure to remove any suspicious tissue for examination) right away,” Dr. Sheppard recommends. “So be sure you are having the MRI done at a facility that offers an immediate MRI-guided breast biopsy.

“And, be sure to know your breast cancer risk factors and talk to your doctor about whether a breast MRI is right for you.”

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