OBJECTIVE To perform a systematic review of the methods used for background parenchymal enhancement (BPE) evaluation on breast MRI. METHODS Studies dealing with BPE assessment on breast MRI were retrieved from major medical libraries independently by four reviewers up to 6 October 2015. The keywords used for database searching are "background parenchymal enhancement", "parenchymal enhancement", "MRI" and "breast". The studies were included if qualitative and/or quantitative methods for BPE assessment were described. RESULTS Of the 420 studies identified, a total of 52 articles were included in the systematic review. 28 studies performed only a qualitative assessment of BPE, 13 studies performed only a quantitative assessment and 11 studies performed both qualitative and quantitative assessments. A wide heterogeneity was found in the MRI sequences and in the quantitative methods used for BPE assessment. CONCLUSION A wide variability exists in the quantitative evaluation of BPE on breast MRI. More studies focused on a reliable and comparable method for quantitative BPE assessment are needed. Advances in knowledge: More studies focused on a quantitative BPE assessment are needed.