Mammogram or MRI: which is better?

Nearly every woman knows about mammograms, which are x-rays of the breast. And while mammograms are highly recommended as the best method of detecting breast cancer, they don't find every breast cancer.

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) uses magnetic fields, radio waves, and computers to create images of the inside of the body. The technique is used primarily to check abnormal areas seen on a mammogram or any suspicious areas after breast surgery or radiation therapy. It's also helpful sometimes for finding abnormalities in younger women who have dense breast tissue.

On the downside, MRIs are less specific than mammograms. This means MRIs give a higher number of "false positives." This may cause women to get biopsies and other tests they don't need.

For most women, MRIs are not recommended for breast screenings. However, studies show that MRIs may be useful for women at high risk for breast cancer. For example, if a woman carries the genetic mutations BRCA1 and BRCA2, her doctor may recommend an MRI as an additional screening tool, but not a replacement for mammograms.

You and your doctor can determine the best strategy for breast cancer screenings. If you're not at high risk, the American Cancer Society suggests discussing the potential risks and benefits of MRI plus mammograms.