Little information exists concerning the frequency of clinically significant incidental findings (IFs) identified in the course of imaging research across a broad spectrum of imaging modalities and body regions.
To estimate the frequency with which research imaging IFs generate further clinical action, and the medical benefit/burden of identifying these IFs.
Design, Setting, and Participants
Retrospective review of subjects undergoing a research imaging exam that was interpreted by a radiologist for IFs in the first quarter of 2004, with 3-year clinical follow-up. An expert panel reviewed IFs generating clinical action to determine medical benefit/burden based on predefined criteria.
Main Outcome Measures
Frequency of (1) IFs that generated further clinical action by modality, body part, age, gender, and (2) IFs resulting in clear medical benefit or burden.
1376 patients underwent 1426 research imaging studies. 40% (567/1426) of exams had at least one IF (1055 total). Risk of an IF increased significantly by age (OR=1.5; [1.4–1.7=95% C.I.] per decade increase). Abdominopelvic CT generated more IFs than other exams (OR=18.9 compared with ultrasound; 9.2% with subsequent clinical action), with CT Thorax and MR brain next (OR=11.9 and 5.9; 2.8% and 2.2% with action, respectively). Overall 6.2% of exams (35/567) with an IF generated clinical action, resulting in clear medical benefit in 1.1% (6/567) and clear medical burden in 0.5% (3/567). In most instances, medical benefit/burden was unclear (4.6%; 26/567).
The frequency of IFs in imaging research exams varies significantly by imaging modality, body region and age. Research imaging studies at high risk for generating IFs can be identified. Routine evaluation of research images by radiologists may result in identification of IFs in a substantial number of cases and subsequent clinical action to address them in much smaller number. Such clinical action can result in medical benefit to a small number of patients.