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Understanding Prostate MRI

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a test that lets your doctor see detailed pictures of the inside of your body. It uses radio waves, magnets, and a computer to create images of the soft tissues in the body, such as the prostate gland. An MRI can be done in different ways. Your healthcare provider may use a dye (contrast agent) injected into the vein. The dye highlights certain details in the prostate. In some cases, the provider may place a probe in the rectum. This is called an endorectal coil. The coil may be used to make a better image. It also keeps the prostate from moving during the test. Newer MRI methods give clearer images of the prostate. This helps find possible areas of cancer and give information about how serious the cancer may be. The role of MRI in prostate cancer care has expanded, both before and after a diagnosis. Talk with your provider about your options and preferences.

Results of the MRI show the size and location of problems in the prostate. They also show how likely those problems are to be cancer. The results also show whether the cancer has spread beyond the prostate.

Why prostate MRI is done

A prostate MRI is done to:

  • Diagnose prostate cancer

  • Determine if a biopsy is needed

  • Help find the place in the prostate that may have cancer

  • Give information about how quickly the cancer may grow

  • Help with a biopsy of prostate tissue (MRI-guided targeted biopsy)

  • Show if cancer has spread to other parts of the body

How prostate MRI is done

The MRI machine is a large circular piece of equipment with a hole in the middle. Some newer MRIs are open on the sides. You will lie on a table that can be slid into the MRI machine. If you have contrast dye, it will be injected through an IV (intravenous) tube. If you have a coil, it will be put into your rectum. A balloon is inflated at the end of the coil inside the rectum to hold it in place.

As the table moves through the machine, it takes pictures. The machine makes very loud banging sounds. You will be given headphones or earplugs to wear during the test. The technician will be in the next room watching you through a window and talking with you through a 2-way intercom.

Technician preparing man for MRI scan.

Risks of prostate MRI

There is no radiation exposure during a MRI scan. All procedures have some risks.

You will have a detailed safety screening before having an MRI. But in general, tell your healthcare provider and the technologist if you have any implanted device or metal clips, or pins or metal fragments in your body. Some devices can't be used with MRI that has a strong magnetic field. You also may not be able to have an MRI if you have ever had an imaging test with contrast dye or are allergic to contrast dye, iodine, shellfish, or any medicines. Also tell your provider if you have a serious health problem such as diabetes or kidney disease.

You may have some discomfort if an endorectal coil is used. You may feel a warming sensation. Let the technologist know. If dye is used, you may have an allergic reaction to it. But this is rare.

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