August 27, 2020

Breast MRI during COVID-19

Woman in pink shirtBy Cherry Odom, BSN, RN-BC

When a woman hears “You may have breast cancer,” she may experience every emotion from disbelief to panic. If a mammogram or ultrasound have not given enough detail, fortunately, breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a noninvasive procedure that can be ordered instead of biopsy or surgery.

Follow-up Care

Mission Hospital McDowell is now the only facility in Mission Health’s eastern region where breast MRI is offered. “I’m really glad we provide this and can usually set up an appointment in two days,” said Lisa Burden, RT(MR), MRI Team Leader at Mission Hospital McDowell. This allows a shorter wait time for women to get more information about their diagnosis. Results are usually available to providers within one day.

Providers may order a breast MRI to gather details to decide whether part of the breast (lumpectomy), all the breast (mastectomy) or even both breasts (double mastectomy) should be removed. In high-risk cases of a family history of breast cancer at an early age, a woman’s provider may order a baseline breast MRI for comparison with repeat annual MRIs. Also, breast MRI is important in the follow-up care after a single or double mastectomy to assess for cancer recurrence in the chest wall or muscle.

Low Risk

Burden stated that there is usually no prep needed before the MRI, which uses radio waves and strong magnets to make detailed pictures. The procedure has no radiation exposure. The intravenous contrast has a low risk for reaction. Patients complete a screening questionnaire to make sure it is safe for them to enter the MRI suite. Some medical implants, such as many pacemakers, are not safe due to the magnet’s strong pull and potential for dislodging from the body.

Patients lay on their stomach. Burden said, “There is no pain with the procedure, and it takes 15 to 20 minutes. The position may be uncomfortable to the chest, but we try to cushion it.” Ear protection is provided to reduce the loud knocking sound caused by the vibration of gradient coils inside the magnet.

Your Safety and COVID-19

Precautions for COVID-19 include taking temperatures of all who enter the hospital, providing masks to anyone who needs one and screening questions about cough or fever and exposure to someone with the virus. The MRI equipment is disinfected between each patient. “Our patients can come here and know they will get the exact same quality exam they would in Asheville,” said Burden.

Lisa Burden, RT(MR), is MRI Team Leader at Mission Hospital McDowell Imaging.

Mission Imaging at Mission Hospital McDowell delivers the highest levels of quality, safety and care. To find a location near you or for more information, visit