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Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI)

This information will prepare you for functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK).

Most people's brains are organized in a similar way. However, lesions in the brain can cause the speech and movement functions to move around. During your fMRI you will be asked to perform certain tasks that will help your doctor locate the area of your brain that controls speech and movement. This information will then be used to help make decisions about your surgery.

If you have any of the devices listed below, call (646) 227-2323. It may not be safe for you to have an MRI.

  • Pacemaker
  • Automatic implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (AICD)
  • Breast tissue expander
  • Aneurysm clip

Preparing for Your fMRI

  • If you have a medical implant or device, ask the doctor who put it in for the exact name and manufacturer. If you don’t have this information before your fMRI, you may not be able to have it that day.
  • If you wear contact lenses, please wear them the day of the fMRI. This will make it easier to complete the tasks presented to you while you are in the fMRI.
  • The fMRI takes 30 to 45 minutes.

The Day of Your fMRI

  • You may take your medication as usual.
  • Refer to the printed reminder you received from your doctor’s office for the time and location of your fMRI.
  • If you wear a medication patch on your skin, bring an extra one with you. We may ask you to remove the patch before your MRI. This is because metal in the patch may heat up during your MRI and cause burns. If you wear a fentanyl patch, you can leave it on during your fMRI.
  • Leave all valuables, such as credit cards and jewelry, at home.
  • If your doctor prescribed medication to help you relax during your fMRI, bring it with you. Take it 30 to 60 minutes before your fMRI.

Even if you have taken medication to relax you for an MRI in the past, do not take it for your fMRI without speaking with the clinician performing the fMRI first.

  • Contrast dye might be used during your fMRI to make it easier to see any disease. It will be given through an intravenous (IV) catheter placed in your hand or arm. If you have had a reaction to MRI contrast dye in the past, call your doctor’s office. If you are going to get contrast dye, your doctor or nurse will discuss it with you first. If you are between the ages of 11 and 50, this discussion will include questions about any chance you might be pregnant.
  • You will change into a hospital gown before going into the scanning area. For safety reasons, you will place your clothing, credit and ATM cards, and any objects (such as your phone, jewelry, coins, and glasses), in a locker. This is because objects with even a small amount of metal can fly into the magnet, and the magnet can damage mobile phones and credit cards.
  • Your clinician will discuss the fMRI tasks that were selected for you before going into the fMRI scanning room. You may be asked to think of words that fit a category or answer other questions about your speech or strength. At this time you should discuss any speech difficulties or other problems you might have. 
  • You will be taken to the scanning room and helped onto the MRI table. The MRI machine is a large, donut-shaped magnet. It makes a loud tapping noise while the scan is in progress. When you have been made as comfortable as possible on the MRI table, your technologist will slide it into the magnetic part of the machine. You will be able to speak with your technologist and the clinician performing the fMRI exam during the entire scan.
  • While you are lying in the fMRI scanner, the clinician will to ask to you to begin your selected task. You will be asked to perform a task for about 20 seconds and then you will rest. This will be repeated 5 to 6 times.
  • It is important to lie still and breathe normally during the scan. The scan itself does not hurt, but lying on the table for 45 to 60 minutes may be uncomfortable. If you think this will be a problem for you, tell your doctor before you come for the scan. 

After Your Procedure

  • When your fMRI is complete, the scanning table will be moved from the machine and you will be helped off the table. After you get your belongings, you may leave the fMRI suite.
  • There are no restrictions after your MRI and no special care is needed.
  • Your radiologist will send a report to your doctor. The results of your fMRI will be used with other test results to plan your care.