Full-body MRI shows promise for screening, but should stay in research area for now, study says

02/03/05

The use of full-body cardiovascular and tumor MRI to screen for disease in patients who do not have any suspicious symptoms is technically feasible, but for the present, full-body MRI screening should not be performed outside of a research setting due to the uncertainty of whether the benefits outweigh the risks, according to a new study by researchers from the University Hospital of Essen in Germany.

For the study, the researchers conducted 298 full-body MRI screenings of healthy patients. The screenings revealed that 21% of the study group exhibited signs of atherosclerotic disease and 12% had peripheral vascular disease. Twelve colon polyps, nine pulmonary lesions, two cerebral infarctions and one myocardial infarction were also discovered. In addition, 29% of the examinations revealed relevant additional findings in nontargeted organs.

Full-body MRI focuses on the brain, heart, arteries and colon, as well as the surrounding tissue. The whole process takes about an hour, with breaks scattered throughout for patient comfort, equipment set-up and dialogue with the doctor.

"Theoretically, screening with such proven MRI techniques could be of value to certain patients. There are some studies proving the benefit of early therapy for certain conditions such as cardiovascular disease and colon cancer, but this is not known for all diseases. The scanning gives a dramatic bundle of information. Although one might think that this increases health in the future, there is controversy. Not in relation to the actual MRI techniques, but whether finding an abnormality really alters the outcome--for example, with early lung cancer," said Susanne C. Gehde, MD, lead author of the study.

"We do believe screening does some good for patients, but it is not yet proven. In addition, with full-body MRI screening, you can evaluate a variety of organs and detect a variety of diseases, making it dramatically more difficult to calculate risks and benefits. Our recommendation is not to advertise this to the population, but to first undertake long-term studies to see if the benefits outweigh the potential risks," said Dr. Gehde.

However, the researchers admit, news of this technique is spreading and many patients are requesting it. "I think we cannot hinder patients from getting these exams, but they really must be very well-informed about risks, benefits, complications of false-negatives and false-positives, the potential necessity of additional clarifying examinations or operations and about the diseases one cannot see with MRI," said Dr. Gehde.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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