Molecular Breast Imaging (MBI)

Advanced Imaging Technology for Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Molecular breast imaging (MBI) is an advanced, FDA-approved imaging technology that is used to identify breast cancer in women with dense breast tissue—a characteristic that can make it difficult to detect breast tumors using routine mammography alone. In standard mammogram images, dense breast tissue and abnormal masses both appear white. MBI uses a special camera and a small amount of radioactive tracer to spotlight differences in tissue activity and differentiate healthy, dense tissue from breast irregularities. It is a highly accurate imaging study with a low chance of missing cancerous cells.    

When Is Molecular Breast Imaging Recommended?    

Molecular breast imaging may be appropriate for women who have: 

  • Dense breast tissue 
  • An elevated risk of developing breast cancer or experiencing recurrences  
  • Complex breast problems caused by previous radiation or lumpectomies 

MBI does not replace an annual mammogram—rather, it is combined with mammography to ensure good breast health in high-risk women. In other cases, an MBI test may be used to investigate a breast mass when a mammogram or other imaging procedure produces inconclusive results.  

For women with an average risk of breast cancer and normal breast tissue, standard mammography remains the ideal screening method.  

What Happens During Molecular Breast Imaging?   

A molecular breast imaging scan is simple and takes less than 30 minutes to complete. Here’s what it involves:  

  • A small amount of radioactive tracer is administered to the patient through an intravenous (IV) line. The tracer is swiftly absorbed by rapidly dividing cells, including cancer cells, and appears highlighted on imaging results.  
  • The patient places her breast on a special platform—similar to that of a mammogram machine. The breast is gently compressed to capture high-quality images with a “gamma” camera, but this light compression should not cause discomfort.  
  • The gamma cameras record the breast’s tissue activity for about 20 minutes, during which the patient may be asked to reposition her breast.   

What Should I Expect?   

You’ll likely be advised to fast three to four hours before your molecular breast imaging procedure, although sugar- and dairy-free liquids are generally permitted. This is to help ensure the clearest possible images of breast tissue. You’ll be able to resume normal activities immediately following an MBI scan. Risks associated with this test are minimal, but include rare radiation-related complications and possible allergic reactions to the tracer.  

The latest breakthroughs in breast health services—including molecular breast imaging and other precision diagnostics—are available at Tampa General Hospital.