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Prostate MRI Scan: Purpose, Preparation And Procedure

If you’re scheduled to have an MRI scan for prostate cancer, you may be wondering what to expect and how to prepare.

Read on to discover everything you need to know about prostate MRI images and the critical role they play in diagnosing prostate cancers.

How Does A Prostate Scan Work?

A prostate scan is done via MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) – they use magnets to generate a detailed picture of your prostate and the tissues around it to check for cancerous cells or tumours.

Some of the advantages of having this an MRI for prostate cancer detection include:

  • Providing information to your doctor about whether or not you have prostate cancer, and how quickly the cancer is likely to grow.
  • Being more likely to pick up a slow-growing and non-threatening cancer than a prostate biopsy.
  • Enabling your doctor to decide whether you need a prostate biopsy.
  • Aiding as a guide for your doctor during a prostate biopsy as the scan images can help determine what parts of the prostate the samples should be taken from.
  • Helping your doctor in your treatment plan if you then have a prostate biopsy and cancer is found. Typically you won’t need another prostate cancer scan, as the information can be taken from the first scan, meaning you can start treatment as soon as possible.

Why You Might Need A Scan Of Your Prostate Gland

In many hospitals and clinics, you may have a special type of MRI scan, known as a multi-parametric MRI scan, prior to having a biopsy. This can also be recommended after a prostate biopsy, or, for example, if you are at prostate cancer risk and your doctor wishes to eliminate urological and prostate cancers as a cause of your symptoms.

The main purpose of this is to enable your doctor to diagnose prostate cancer. They can see whether there is any cancer inside of your prostate, as well as determine how likely the cancer is to spread.

If you have had a prostate cancer diagnosis and your doctor wants to determine whether the cancer has spread further, you may have a biopsy first and then the magnetic resonance imaging scan afterwards.

To summarise, the reasons why you may have an MRI scan include the following:

  • To help your doctor determine whether or not you need a prostate biopsy.
  • To help guide a prostate biopsy.
  • To find out if your cancer has spread, or the effects of treatment.
  • To monitor your prostate cancer if you decide not to have treatment.

How To Prepare For Your Prostate Scan

Either before you go to your prostate cancer scan appointment, or upon arrival, you will typically need to fill in a safety checklist.

The safety checklist will ask about any operations you have had, as well as asking whether you have had any metal implants in your body.

The reason for this is that magnetic resonance imaging uses strong magnetism, which could impact any metal in your body. This includes:

  • Metal fragments anywhere in your body, for instance, from dental fillings.
  • Cochlear implants.
  • Surgical plates, pins, or clips.
  • An implantable defibrillator or pacemaker.

You may still be able to have a prostate cancer scan if you have some metal in your body, but your radiographer and doctor will determine whether or not it is safe for you.

If you are someone who suffers from claustrophobia, then during your magnetic resonance imaging scan, you may want to contact the department beforehand to let them know. They will make an effort to ensure you are as comfortable and relaxed as possible.

For practical reasons, your radiographer will let you know whether you need to empty your bowels before your prostate imaging, and in some cases, an enema may be given. This is a liquid-filled pouch that has a nozzle and can be placed into your rectum to help you empty your bowels beforehand.

What To Expect From Your MRI

During the procedure

Now that you know how to prepare for your prostate cancer scan, we will talk you through what to expect once you arrive at the magnetic resonance imaging MRI department.

The radiographer may ask you to get changed into a provided hospital gown. This is to make sure you’re not wearing anything with metal, such as clips or zips.

You will need to:

  • Empty your pockets of keys and coins.
  • Remove any hair clips.
  • Remove any jewellery, such as your watch or body piercings.

And if you are feeling nervous and would like a loved one to attend the scan with you, you will usually be permitted to do this. However, it is worth checking with the scanning department first.

If a friend or family member does attend, they will need to remove all metal as well.

Once you head into the scanning room, you will notice the doughnut-shaped MRI scanner immediately. You will then lie on your back on the hospital bed, which will slide into the MRI scanner machine.

The doctor may inject some dye into a vein in your arm as a contrast medium, which will be injected via a cannula (small plastic tube). This helps the organs in your body to show up more clearly on the scan images.

Your radiographer will check with you first to make sure you are not allergic to the dye.

After the dye injection, it is possible you may feel the following effects:

  • Dizziness.
  • A metallic taste in your mouth.
  • Flushed or warm.
  • A headache.
  • Nausea.

However, these effects should only be mild and they should not last for long. If you feel unwell at any point throughout the scan or after it though, let your radiographer know.

While you are having the prostate cancer scan, you need to stay as still as possible. You will not experience any pain during the scan but remaining still can be uncomfortable. If you feel you are getting stiff and need to move, just let the radiographer know.

When you are in the correct position, your radiographer will leave the room. They will watch at all times, either through a window or on a TV screen, and there is an intercom so that you can speak to one another.

The bed will move through the MRI scanning machine. While you are moving through it, it will take pictures, which your doctor will then examine for signs of prostate cancer.

Your radiographer may also ask that you hold your breath at times while you are having the scan.

During the scan, the machine will make some loud clanging sounds, although you will be provided with headphones so that your hearing is protected. You have the option of listening to music and most people like to shut their eyes too.

After the procedure

Once you have had your scan for prostate cancer, your radiographer will re-enter the room and lower the bed so that you can get up.

If you have had the dye, you will typically need to stay in the department for around fifteen minutes. This is purely to make sure you don’t fall ill. And before you leave, the radiographer will take the cannula from the vein in your arm.

Once you have left the hospital or specialist clinic for urological cancers, you will be able to go back to your daily routine, and you can drink and eat as you normally would too.

It can feel like a long wait for your results, but you should get them within a week or two. It can be a good idea to ask your doctor how long it is going to take to get your results so that you know what to expect timewise.

You may also be provided with contact information for a prostate cancer specialist nurse who you can contact if you need to.


Can an MRI detect prostate cancer?

Yes, an MRI can help to detect prostate cancers. Often, a prostate biopsy will be carried out first to determine the presence of prostate cancer. After this, an MRI is undertaken to determine the progress of the cancer.

MRI images can showcase whether or not cancer has spread outside of the prostate and into nearby structures, like the seminal vesicles. This is critical in determining prostate cancer treatment options.

Why would a doctor order an MRI of the prostate?

There are a number of reasons why your doctor may have ordered an MRI for your prostate. Typically, doctors use such scans to evaluate the extent of prostate cancer and figure out whether or not it has spread.

They can also use MRI scans to diagnose an enlarged prostate, conditions you were born with, or infection. It may also be recommended if you are at rick of prostate cancer or have an elevated prostate specific antigen (PSA) result. Most prostate cancers are associated with an elevated prostate specific antigen (PSA) result.

How accurate is an MRI in detecting prostate cancer?

MRI scans play a big role when it comes to determining the presence of prostate cancer. This type of imaging can also offer further information regarding prostate cancer as well, such as how advanced the cancer is and whether or not it has spread.

Compared with a systematic biopsy alone, an MRI – with or without a targeted prostate biopsy – has been linked with a 57% increase in detecting clinically significant prostate cancer.