Frequently Asked Questions: Breast MRI Screening

Common questions about breast MRI can be found below. If you would like more information, you can email us or call 215-898-9294.

What is breast density?

A woman’s breast has three different types of tissue: fibrous, glandular, and fatty tissue. Breast density compares the amounts of fibrous and glandular tissue to the amount of fatty tissue. Breast density is detected by mammograms, and about half of women over 40 years old have dense breasts, and about 1 in 10 women have extremely dense breasts. Breast density can hide tumors in the breast.

Why do I need MRI screening in addition to my mammogram? 

Women with dense breasts have 3 to 5 times greater risk of developing breast cancer as compared to women without dense breasts. A mammogram helps to detect cancer early, but it is not a perfect test. Dense tissue can hide breast cancers on mammograms, and recent studies have found that screening with Magnetic Resonance Imagining (MRI) in addition to regular mammography can improve detection of small, invasive cancers that may not be detected by mammography alone. This is important because detecting breast cancer early means less treatment, as well as fewer or no breast cancer-related surgeries and improved survival. 

What is a breast MRI? What happens during a breast MRI? 

Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI, is a type of scan that creates images using a powerful magnet and radio waves. An injection of contrast is needed for most breast MR imaging. You’ll receive an IV in your arm before the study begins. An injection of contrast agent will be given via the IV throughout the study. During a breast MRI, you will lay face down on a table that moves through a tube-shaped structure where images of the breasts are created. There is no radiation or X-ray exposure during an MRI. Our expert breast imaging radiologists will then interpret the study, and they will send the results to you and your doctor. 

Does this test have false positives?

MRI, like other imaging tests, can result in false positives, which might require additional imaging and a biopsy to confirm if there is cancer.

Does insurance cover this additional screening? 

In January 2022, Pennsylvania passed a law that requires MRI screening to be covered by insurance for women with extremely dense breasts. However, be mindful that you might be responsible for certain copay or coinsurance charges based on your specific insurance plan. 

What costs might I be responsible for when getting a breast MRI screening?

It’s important to note that even though full MRI screening is covered by insurance under Pennsylvania law for patients with extremely dense breasts, you might still be responsible for some costs depending on your specific insurance plan. Costs for patients can greatly vary, especially if your insurance plan has a high deductible. It’s important that you check with your insurance plan before deciding to pursue the breast MRI screening.

You can call Radiology Financial Clearance at 267-414-2760 to get a cost estimate. If cost is a barrier for you, you can then contact the Patient Financial Advocacy team at PatientFinancialAdvocacy@uphs.upenn.edu or 215-662-3505.

How do I schedule a breast MRI screening? 

In order to schedule your supplemental breast MRI screening, contact your primary care or OB/GYN provider and ask them to order a breast MRI screening. After the order has been placed by your provider, you can request an appointment online here. You can also call 215-662-3000 to schedule your breast MRI screening test.

What if I have more questions about breast MRI screening? 

Your primary care provider can help you decide whether to pursue breast MRI screening based on your breast density level and other risk factors. You can also contact breastmriisc3@pennmedicine.upenn.edu or call 215-898-9294 if you need more information.