Mammogram or MRI: Which One Should You Choose?
Testing early and often for breast cancer is the mantra for anyone with a history of the disease in their family or anyone over the age of 40. But should you opt for the more common mammogram or for an MRI?
Both can play an important part in detecting breast cancer early.
What happens in a mammogram?
When you get a mammogram, your breast is compressed between two firm surfaces to spread out your breast tissue. The lab technician uses X-rays to capture a black-and-white image on a computer screen. Once your mammogram is complete, a radiologist studies the images to see if there are any signs of cancer. The scan itself usually takes around 10 to 15 minutes.
The process of breast MRI screening
If you have dense breasts, an MRI may be a better option for detecting cancer. For instance, if you have a family history of breast cancer or are at a higher risk, you may want to ask your doctor about an MRI. A breast MRI uses a dye, gadolinium, put into the person's body to see breast tissue density. During this procedure, you will lie flat on your back as you are moved through a radio imaging tube, which can show a complete resolution of your breasts. Because the MRI screening is so accurate, it often detects everything—even growths that could be benign cysts.
If you have the genetic mutation for breast cancer, an MRI is a comprehensive test that can spot even the smallest tumor, potentially saving your life with early detection.
Though both a mammogram and an MRI are used to help find breast cancer, there are differences between the two. Consider these metrics when evaluating which test to use:
- Availability: Many locations do not have enough imaging equipment, and it is often harder to get a timely appointment for an MRI.
- Cost: It is much more expensive to have an MRI versus a mammogram. Does your health insurance cover an MRI?
- Reliability: Since there can be false-positive results with an MRI picking up small spots that may not be cancerous, the possibility of unnecessary surgery is always there.
Additionally, because a mammogram is much more affordable, most insurance companies cover this expense, while MRIs have fallen out of favor with insurers and some doctors. An insurance company may not cover an MRI unless there was an abnormality found in a previous mammogram.
So which screening should you use?
Breast cancer screening is important for any woman over the age of 40, or anyone who has a family history of this type of cancer. While most cancers are not preventable, finding breast cancer early makes it easier to treat.
Whether you choose to have a mammogram or an MRI scan, it is essential that you begin preventive screening at the age of 40 or earlier (depending on family history and other factors). Your doctor can help you determine which screening test would be better for you.