At Penn Medicine, our expert radiologists use leading edge breast imaging technology to detect and diagnose breast diseases as early as possible.

Image of computer screen displaying mammogram studyWe offer a full spectrum of breast imaging services including:

  • 3D mammograms (tomosynthesis)
  • Breast ultrasounds
  • Breast MRIs (full or abbreviated, Fast MRIs)
  • Breast biopsy and interventional breast procedures

We'll work with you to create an individualized and comprehensive evaluation plan. The breast imaging services you receive may depend on many factors, including your personal and family history of certain breast diseases.

3D Mammogram (Tomosynthesis)

Some breast cancers may be difficult to identify on standard mammography because they are hidden or obscured by overlapping breast tissue.

3D mammography, also called digital breast tomosynthesis, allows us to use advanced technologies to better “see” breast tumors. Other advantages of 3D mammography include:

  • Greater precision. The 3D digital image format allows us to zoom in, magnify, change contrast and view the breast as individual slices, resulting in more precise images. This reduces the need for repeat screenings.
  • Greater Comfort. Flexible plates create increased comfort during breast compression.
  • Instant Availability. Digital images can be sent and stored electronically to better track changes. Images can be transmitted electronically to another site or recorded on CDs.
  • Improved Detection. 3D mammography can identify significantly more invasive, or potentially lethal, cancers than a traditional mammogram, while also reducing the number of false positives.

Breast Ultrasound

Breast ultrasound is helpful when examining certain breast changes, such as lumps that can be felt but not seen on a mammogram.

Ultrasound is a safe, noninvasive imaging test that does not use radiation or x-ray exposure. During a breast ultrasound, gel is placed on the surface of the breast and an external probe is moved to transmit and collect sound waves. A computer turns the sound waves into images.

We may also recommend a breast ultrasound in addition to mammography if you have dense breast tissue. This helps us perform a more complete evaluation of your breasts. Ultrasound also may be used to help guide breast biopsy procedures.

Breast MRI

During an MRI, images are created using a unit equipped with a powerful magnet and radio waves. There is no radiation or x-ray exposure, however, an injection of contrast is needed for most MR imaging.

During an MRI study, you will lay on a table that moves through a tube-shaped imaging unit while images are taken. We also have high-field MRI units with wider openings to create a more comfortable experience for larger patients or those who experience claustrophobia.

Breast MRI is always performed in conjunction with mammography, however, the studies might not happen on the same day.
You may be a candidate for breast MRI if:

  • You have recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. A breast MRI can help better determine the cancer’s size and stage.
  • You are at a high risk for developing breast carcinoma. If you have a family history of breast cancer or have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutation, you may benefit from screening with breast MRI in conjunction with mammography screening. Earlier detection can mean easier treatment. The Basser Center for BRCA offers education, research and support for those with BRCA genetic mutations.
  • You’ve been previously diagnosed with breast cancer.
  • You had a mammogram or ultrasound during which the findings were uncertain. Breast MRI may sometimes be used to further examine mammogram or sonograph findings and to determine whether a biopsy is needed.

Fast Breast MRI

A Fast MRI is for individuals with dense breast tissue who do not meet the lifetime breast cancer risk level for a full MRI study but who desire additional screening.

Although scientific studies have demonstrated that the Fast MRI is effective in detecting invasive breast cancers, it is not designed to detect the spectrum of diseases that can be detected by a full breast MRI exam. For people with dense breasts, supplemental screening is sometimes recommended to detect cancers that might not be visible on a mammogram. However, as with any screening exam, additional non-cancerous lesions may also be detected, which may require biopsy or additional follow up.

If you have a Fast MRI, you’ll receive an IV in your arm before the study begins. Contrast will be given via the IV throughout the study, which takes about 10 minutes. Our expert breast imaging radiologists will then interpret the study, and the results will be sent to your doctor.

Breast Biopsies

If you have a lump or abnormality in your breast, or if you've been diagnosed with breast cancer, you may be told you need to have a biopsy. A biopsy is a diagnostic procedure in which a small piece of your breast tissue is removed and examined under a microscope to determine if you have breast cancer and, if you do, how advanced it is.

We perform several different types of biopsies, including ultrasound-guided core biopsies, stereotactic core biopsies, MRI-guided core biopsies, fine needle aspirations and cyst aspirations.

Learn about the different types of breast biopsies available at Penn Medicine.

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