What is Incidental Abnormal Radiological Finding (IARF)
- Incidental abnormal radiological finding is an unusual mass or tissue change that is found unexpectedly during an imaging test.
- IARFs are often found in the kidneys or lungs, but they can also be found in the heart, liver, breasts, brain, gallbladder, uterus, or other organs and tissues.
- Incidental Abnormal Radiological Findings can cause symptoms or be related to an undiagnosed illness.
- Most often, however, they do not cause symptoms and are not a cause for concern.
- Incidental Abnormal Radiological Finding or Incidentalomas, incidental imaging findings serendipitously diagnosed in an asymptomatic patient or symptomatic patient undergoing imaging for an unrelated reason, are fast becoming a modern medical crisis.
- The rapid rise in demand for imaging, coupled with rapidly advancing image resolution is driving a surge in incidentalomas
What are common types of IARFs?
There are many types of Incidental Abnormal Radiological Findings.
The Common types include:
- Lesions. A lesion is a change in tissue due to infection, tissue death, or injury.
- Cysts. A cyst is a sac that is filled with fluid, crystals, or some other substance.
- Tumors. A tumor is a solid formation. Tumors can be cancerous (malignant) or non-cancerous (benign).
Your health care provider may use medical terms to describe the finding, such as “pulmonary nodule,” which means a small mass in the lung, or “renal mass,” which means a mass in the kidney. Ask your health care provider about any terms that you do not understand.
Do I need further diagnosis?
Your health care provider may recommend that you have tests to diagnose the cause of the Incidental Abnormal Radiological Findings.
Testing is usually recommended based on:
- The size and appearance of the IARF.
- Whether you have risk factors or medical conditions that increase your risk of problems.
- Whether you have symptoms or concerns.
In many cases, testing is not needed if the IARF is a very small mass or tissue change. Small masses or changes are not often likely to become a problem in the future.
What type of testing may be needed?
The following types of tests may be done when an IARF is found:
- Blood tests.
- Urine tests.
- Imaging tests, such as abdominal ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI.
Tests and physical exams may be done once, or they may be done regularly for a period of time. Tests and exams that are done regularly are performed to show whether the mass or tissue change is growing and becoming a concern.
What are the goals?
- Reducing risks to patients from additional unnecessary examinations, including the risks of radiation and risks associated with interventional procedures;
- Limiting the costs of managing incidental findings to patients and the health care system;
- Achieving greater consistency in recognizing, reporting, and managing incidental findings, as a component of formal quality improvement efforts;
- Providing guidance to radiologists who are concerned about the risk for litigation for missing incidental findings that later prove to be clinically important; and
- Helping focus research efforts to lead to an evidence based approach to incidental findings.
What are common treatments?
Treatment varies depending on:
- The cause of the Incidental Abnormal Radiological Findings.
- The location, size, and appearance of the IARF.
- Your age.
- Any underlying conditions or symptoms.
Treatment is not always needed. Your health care provider may recommend monitoring through watchful waiting and regular tests and exams. If treatment is needed, it may include:
- Treatments to reduce the size of the abnormality.
- Biopsy or surgical removal of the mass or tissue.
- Treatment to address any underlying conditions.
What does research says about Incidental Abnormal Radiological Finding?
Here is the abstract of a Literature review
251 potentially relevant abstracts were identified and 44 articles were finally included in the review. Overall, the mean frequency of incidental findings was 23.6% (95% confidence interval (CI) 15.8–31.3%).
The frequency of incidental findings was higher in studies involving CT technology (mean 31.1%, 95% CI 20.1–41.9%), in patients with an unspecific initial diagnosis (mean 30.5, 95% CI 0–81.6) and when the location of the incidental findings was unspecified (mean 33.9%, 95% CI 18.1–49.7).
The mean frequency of clinical follow-up was 64.5% (95% CI 52.9–76.1%) and mean frequency of clinical confirmation was 45.6% (95% CI 32.1–59.2%). Although the optimal strategy for the management of these abnormalities is still unclear, it is essential to be aware of the low clinical confirmation in findings of moderate and major importance.
- Imaging plays an essential role in medical research.
- Unexpected or incidental abnormal findings arising in the course of imaging research are common; around 3% to 12% in brain imaging and up to 30% in body imaging.
- Such unexpected findings can have profound implications for a patient’s future health, and currently as there are no agreed protocols in place, these findings may go unrecognised or unreported.