ZocdocAnswersAre MRI's reliable for detecting cancer?

Question

Are MRI's reliable for detecting cancer?

In the past year I have had an upper GI, a barium swallow test, an esophageal manometry, a CT scan of head and neck, a MRI of brain and face, and an MRI of my neck. I have had a lump on the right side of my neck which doc thought was a thyroid. It didn't show in the MRI, so we did a blood test TSH. The test came back normal. The problem only consists on the right side of my mouth and neck. I have had some facial tingling on the right side. I feel as if I have something stuck in the tonsillar area of my mouth. I have not had a fever or other symptoms.

Answer

Thanks for your question, and sorry to hear about your persistent complaints. This sort of problem is actually rather common: a patient comes in with a concern for a bump or something else, associated with some other vague complaints such as pain in the tonsil and perhaps some other nerve changes (called paresthesias by doctors). The hard part is that some of these could be signs of something very serious, such as a cancer, but the odds are good that they do not (at least for many people in this situation. I obviously do not know your entire situation, and you will thus need to work closely with your ear nose and throat surgeon, AKA otolaryngologist). In this sort of situation, the doctor has to determine how much testing is appropriate, as most tests have at least some baseline level of risk associated with them. For example, a CT has some radiation present, and, over time, that radiation posed an increased risk of causing cancer according to some studies. Doctors should therefore not obtain extra imaging unless they have true concerns. In your situation, you have had many tests completed already. Please speak with your doctor about this question and your concerns.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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