COVID-19 update:  Our hospital is still fully open for appointments and admissions, however visitors are not permitted.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) using a 3T scanner

A breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan is a non-invasive medical imaging test that uses a powerful magnetic field, radio waves and a computer to produce detailed pictures of the structures within the breast. As no X-rays are used during the test there is no radiation.

What is an MRI breast scan used for?

An MRI breast scan is often used to look for lobular breast cancer as it doesn’t show up well on a mammogram or breast ultrasound.  It also used when a patient has a high risk of developing breast cancer (they may have family members with cancer or gene abnormalities).

How is the MRI performed?

When you arrive for the breast MRI, the radiographer may ask you to change into a hospital gown. You will then be instructed to lie on your back on a couch that can slide into the MRI machine (see image). An MRI checklist form is filled out prior to the procedure.

You may then have a special dye called ‘contrast medium’ (specifically gadolinium-DTPA) injected into a vein in your arm through a small plastic tube (cannula).  This helps the scanner to see the inside of your breasts more clearly so it can take detailed pictures.

You will then be asked to lie on your front on the MRI couch. The radiographer will place your breasts through two holes in the couch. The couch then slowly slides through the MRI scanner and the images are taken.

During the test the MRI scanner will make a knocking or drumming noise. The character of the noise will change several times during your scan. This is perfectly normal.

During the procedure the radiographer will operate the MRI scanner from behind a partition. They will be able to see you throughout the procedure and you will be able to talk to each other through an intercom in the MRI scanner.

The procedure will usually take around 30 minutes to an hour. You usually stay in the department for about 15 minutes after you scan if you’ve had the dye. This is in case it makes you feel unwell.


A breast MRI is extremely safe and doesn’t use radiation. Some people can’t have an MRI but the checklist picks this up beforehand.

There is a chance you may suffer some bruising in the area where the cannula is inserted. There is also a small chance that the contrast medium will leak outside the vein. This can cause swelling and pain in your arm but its occurrence rare. Tell your radiographer if you feel any swelling or pain.

In rare cases the dye injection can make you feel nauseous , give you a headache, make you come over all warm or give you a metallic taste in your mouth. Such symptoms are generally mild and will only last for a short period of time. If you feel unwell tell your radiographer straight away.


Prior to your breast MRI you will be asked to fill out a safety checklist. In this sheet you will need to detail any operations you’ve had or if you have any metal implants or other metals in your body. As an MRI scanner uses strong magnetism it could affect any metal you have in your body.

Before your test you can eat, drink and take medications as normal. We do advise you drink plenty of water before and after the scan as the contrast medium injection can sometimes leave you feeling dehydrated.


Once a report has been validated by the radiologist they are sent to the consultant. A follow up appointment will be made with the breast unit. The consultant will discuss these results. (Possibly a week post MRI procedure).

Breast Clinic

The Breast Unit comprises a multidisciplinary team that enables surgeons to work in partnership with their colleagues in imaging and pathology to ensure a smooth and informed process for patients.

A patient speaking to a receptionist

Patient information

Our Hospital is renowned for providing exemplary levels of care across more than 90 services. From orthopaedics, to urology, ENT, as well as a private GP practice and our urgent care centre, Casualty First, our services are led by some of London’s leading Consultants. For more information, and to find a service suitable for your care, find out more about the services that we offer.

Make an enquiry

If you have any questions relating to treatment options or pricing information then get in touch with us by filling out one of our contact boxes or giving us a call on 020 3370 1041 .

Our Appointments Team have a dedicated and caring approach to finding you the earliest appointment possible with the best specialist.

 If you are self-paying you don’t need a referral from your GP for a consultation. You can simply refer yourself* and book an appointment.

If you have medical insurance (e.g. Bupa, Axa PPP, Aviva), you will need to contact your insurer to get authorisation for any treatment and, in most cases, you will require a referral letter from your GP.

If you do not have a GP, then we have an in-house private GP practice that you can use. Alternatively we can suggest the most appropriate course of action for you to take, given your location and individual circumstance.

*Please note – for investigations such as X-rays and MRI’s a referral will be required. However, we may be able to arrange this for you through our on-site private GP.

    Make an enquiry

    Latest articles

    The latest news, insights and views from St John and Elizabeth Hospital.

    Find out what we’re doing to keep you safe, read expert articles and interviews with our leading specialist Consultants, learn more about common conditions and get your questions answered.

    Remember to subscribe to our monthly newsletter to get the latest news sent straight to your inbox.

    a close up of above the pelvic region - a blog post about urology

    23rd July 2021

    What does a urologist do on the first visit?

    We look at the complex world of urology and what to expect on the first visit to a urologist.

    dr showing how to examine breasts for lumps

    16th July 2021

    How regular screenings at a breast clinic can keep you healthy

    Having screenings at a breast clinic can put your mind at rest or allow you to take early action if something abnormal is found.

    private surgeons performing a hernia operation

    09th July 2021

    Scheduled for a hernia operation? Here’s what to expect

    We look at hernias and the different types that can occur, what kind of symptoms might tell you you have a hernia and what to expect if you’re scheduled to have a hernia operation.

    A smiling nurse

    02nd July 2021

    How much does a cervical screening cost?

    Wondering how much a cervical screening costs? We examine this important procedure and…

    a close up of female skin side shoulder view

    18th June 2021

    Checking your skin at a private dermatology clinic

    We examine the functions of the skin, what can go wrong and when…

    a doctor talking to a patient at a private urgent care centre in london

    04th June 2021

    A private urgent care centre for when you need immediate attention

    There’s no need to wait around when you opt for a private urgent…

    A patient waiting at London Urology

    28th May 2021

    The 3 most common prostate problems you need to know about

    One in five men will experience prostate problems at some point in their…

    Fibroscan at The Gi Unit

    14th May 2021

    What is a Fibroscan: Five facts you may not know

    A Fibroscan is a simple, painless and non-invasive procedure used to accurately assess…

    International Nurses Day blog banner

    11th May 2021

    International Nurses Day 2021 at St John and St Elizabeth Hospital

    This year’s theme of International Nurses Day is: “A Voice to Lead –…

    Close up of woman exercising on gym machine

    23rd April 2021

    Mr Dimitrios Tsekes: How to avoid a bicep injury in the gym, and how to treat a bicep tendon tear

    Mr Dimitrios Tsekes, a leading orthopaedic and upper-limb surgeon at our Shoulder Unit,…

    12th March 2021

    Patient safety awareness: our pledge

    Patient safety is at the heart of St John & St Elizabeth Hospital’s…

    03rd March 2021

    Ask the Expert: Cataracts

    Cataracts are a common issue affecting older adults, where cloudy patches form on…