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Brain imaging advances lead to more false alarms November 2, 2007

Posted by Dreamhealer in Research.
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By Karla Gale

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Improvements in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) have led to increased detection of minor brain abnormalities that may worry the patient, but often will never cause any problems, according to study findings reported in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The study involved 2,000 people, between 46 and 96 years of age, with no symptoms of brain disease who underwent MRI between 2005 and 2007.

Dead brain tissue was the most common abnormality, seen in 7.2 percent of subjects. Other abnormalities included benign brain tumors and ballooned blood vessels, also known as aneurysms.

The tumors were classified as benign based on typical characteristics, such as the location, shape and density, co-researcher Dr. Aad van der Lugt, Erasmus MC University Medical Center in Rotterdam, told Reuters Health.

While incidental findings on MRI, sometimes referred to as “incidentalomas,” may prompt further investigation they should never be used as the sole reason for receiving a particular medical or surgical treatment, van der Lugt emphasized.

In this study, “persons who exhibited potentially clinically relevant findings on MRI were referred to medical specialists.”

“Some incidental findings warrant follow-up imaging,” van der Lugt said. “Most benign tumors have a slow rate of growth and can be monitored using follow-up imaging. Follow-up is normally done after 1 year, using MRI.”

He suggested that their observations are most pertinent to research studies. As such, he proposed that “the informed consent of the research study should include information on the possibility of detecting incidental brain findings and participants should be able to opt out on being informed of the existence of such brain abnormalities.” 

He emphasized that studies should have a protocol in which brain scans are read by professionals and there is a plan for dealing with any incidental brain findings that may be detected.

SOURCE: The New England Journal of Medicine, November 1, 2007

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