Sarah Cannon - October 14, 2019

It’s important to learn about the benefits of regular mammograms, and also understand the difference between mammograms and other types of diagnostic tests such as an MRI.

What's the difference between a mammogram and an MRI?

A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. A screening mammogram is used to look for signs of breast cancer in women who don't have any symptoms, taking images from two different angles. A diagnostic mammogram is usually used as a follow-up to a screening mammogram and takes additional photos to determine exactly if and where breast cancer may be present.

A breast MRI, on the other hand, is like an MRI for any other body part: a patient lies down, stays extremely still and is slid into a machine for images to be taken using magnetic fields.

What is the purpose of these tests?

The purpose of both an MRI and a mammogram is to look for possible breast tumors that could be cancerous.

What are the pros and cons to each testing method?

A mammogram can sometimes have difficulty definitively capturing tumors in dense breast tissue. A breast MRI is able to see through dense breast tissue better, and can therefore be helpful in determining breast cancer at an earlier stage for women with dense breast tissue.

One of the biggest issues with breast MRIs is that it is difficult to determine between benign (non-cancerous) and malignant (cancerous) tumors, and can result in false positive results. When a false positive diagnosis is given, it requires the patient to complete further testing and biopsies.

Talk with your doctor about the best screening plan for you.

Sarah Cannon recommends that an annual mammogram screening for women ages 40 and over should be a routine care consideration. A woman's decision to undergo screening should be made in consultation with her physician. Women should talk with their physicians regularly starting as early as age 25 about their individualized risk for breast cancer, as higher risk women may benefit from genetic counseling or early screening.