Have you recently had a normal MRI for your symptoms but are worried that it missed a brain tumor?
CAN an MRI miss a brain tumor that’s big enough to cause symptoms?
When a physician believes that a patient’s symptoms are being caused by a brain tumor, an MRI will be ordered.
Lying inside the “tube” while one’s brain is being carefully scanned can be so terrifying that some patients require sedation.
But the most frightening element of this very safe, non-invasive procedure is when it’s over – when the patient then waits for the results, especially if a brain tumor is on the patient’s radar.
An incredible relief surges through the patient when told that the “MRI is normal,” or that “You do not have a brain tumor.”
The profound reassurance may not last long for some patients – those with health anxiety or who’ve always been very detail-oriented – as they will then begin wondering if the MRI missed their brain tumor.
MRI Missing a Brain Tumor: Contrast and Slicing
“MRI is often used to help diagnose multiple diseases including brain tumors,” says Sumeer Sathi, MD, a neurosurgeon who treats brain tumors, and founding member of Long Island Neuroscience Specialists.
“There are different types of MRI scans that use different protocols.
“For example, a pituitary microadenoma may be missed without using thin slices to image part of the brain called the sella.
“MRI with contrast can also help detect brain tumors.
“Small tumors in pituitary, along cranial nerves including acoustic, meningiomas and primary brain tumors can be missed if contrast MRI is not performed.”
Dr. Sathi also says that if “thin slices through region of interest (for example, internal auditory canal or orbits) or all sequences” are not performed, the study can miss a brain tumor.
It’s also possible that the mass can already be causing symptoms despite not being detected.
Patient Movement and Radiologist Error
“If a patient moves too much during the scan, it can lead to motion artifact on images,” says Dr. Sathi.
“This will make images less clear and can lead to missed diagnosis.”
Dr. Sathi also points out that radiologist error can lead to a missed finding.
Worried your MRI missed a brain tumor?
If you haven’t yet had the procedure, you’ll want to discuss with your doctor the factors just mentioned:
1) number of slices (the higher the number, the more sensitive the image)
2) use of contrast dye
3) ability to lie perfectly still throughout the procedure; possible need for sedation
4) experience of the radiologist who will be interpreting the images.
If you’ve already had the MRI, and the results were negative, you should still discuss your concerns with your doctor, especially if you couldn’t lie still or contrast dye was not used.
Nevertheless, Dr. Sathi says, “Generally MRI is very accurate.”
Dr. Sathi’s expertise includes spine surgery and treating brain tumors including metastasis, gliomas, meningiomas and acoustic neuromas using gamma knife radiosurgery. Long Island Neuroscience Specialists is a multidisciplinary group of neuro-spine surgeons and an interventional pain management anesthesiologist.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.