Mammography and Breast MRI: Can You Tell the Difference?

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Our breast health and wellbeing are of vital importance, and medical technologies play a crucial role in the early detection and accurate diagnosis of breast problems. Two of the most frequently used tools in this field are mammograms and breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Both have their own unique characteristics and applications, and understanding their differences can help women make informed decisions about their screening and diagnostic tests. 

In this article, we will explore the key differences between mammography and breast MRI.

Mammography: The Classic Screening Test

Mammography is a medical imaging procedure that uses low-dose x-rays to create images of the breast. It is commonly regarded and used as an early detection tool for breast cancer, especially in women over the age of 40. 

During a mammogram, the breast is compressed between two plates to obtain clear, detailed images. These images can reveal the presence of growths, calcifications, and other changes that could be indicative of anomalies.

One of the main benefits of mammograms is the ability to detect calcifications, which may be an early sign of breast cancer. 

In addition, mammograms are relatively fast and widely available compared to other more advanced imaging tests.

Breast MRI

Breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a more advanced imaging technique that uses magnetic fields and radio waves to create detailed three-dimensional images of the breasts. 

Unlike mammograms, which use X-rays, MRIs do not involve ionizing radiation. This makes it a safer screening option for young women and those with a high genetic risk.

A breast MRI is particularly useful in cases when a more detailed evaluation is needed, such as for women with dense breast tissue or when a mammogram reveals abnormalities that warrant further investigation. 

It can also be useful to determine how far an already detected cancer has spread, to plan surgeries, and to evaluate the effectiveness of therapy.

Key Differences between Mammograms and Breast MRIs

Type of image: Mammography produces a three-dimensional image (tomosynthesis) in black and white, while a breast MRI creates three-dimensional images that provide a more detailed view of the breast structures.

Radiation: Mammograms use ionizing radiation (X-rays), while MRIs do not use radiation.

Target group: Mammograms are widely recommended for early detection in women of a certain age (usually over 40). Breast MRIs are most commonly used in specific cases, such as women with a higher risk of breast cancer, or for a more detailed evaluation of existing problems.

Sensitivity: Compared to mammography, breast MRIs tend to be more sensitive in detecting certain anomalies, especially in dense tissue.


Both mammograms and breast MRIs are valuable tools in detecting and diagnosing breast problems, although they are useful in different contexts and for different purposes. The choice between these two methods depends on several factors, such as age, medical history, and previous test results. 

Consult with a health care professional to discuss both options. The specialists at Salus will advise you on which is the most suitable option for you. Make an appointment online or call 787.789.1996.


Source: (2021). Screening and Testing. Retrieved on August 25, 2023, from

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