Why it's done

A breast MRI is most often used to screen for breast cancer in women thought to have a high risk of the disease. A breast MRI may also be used to assess the extent of breast cancer.

Your doctor may recommend a breast MRI if:

  • You've been diagnosed with breast cancer and your doctor wants to determine the extent of the cancer
  • You have a suspected leak or rupture of a breast implant
  • You're at high risk of breast cancer, defined as a lifetime risk of 20 percent or greater, as calculated by risk tools that take your family history and other factors into consideration
  • You have a strong family history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer
  • You have very dense breast tissue, and mammograms didn't detect a prior breast cancer
  • You have a history of precancerous breast changes — such as atypical hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ — and a strong family history of breast cancer and dense breast tissue
  • You have a hereditary breast cancer gene mutation (e.g., BRCA1 or BRCA2)
  • You have had radiation treatments to your chest area before age 30

If you're unsure whether you're considered high risk, ask your doctor to help you determine your personal risk estimate. A referral to a breast clinic or breast health specialist may help you better understand your risk and your screening options.

A breast MRI is intended to be used in addition to a mammogram or another breast-imaging test — not as a replacement for a mammogram. Although it's a sensitive test, a breast MRI can still miss some breast cancers that a mammogram will detect.