Whole-body magnetic resonance imaging (WB-MRI) for cancer screening in asymptomatic subjects of the general population: Review and recommendations

Fabio Zugni, Anwar Roshanali Padhani, Dow Mu Koh, Paul Eugene Summers, Massimo Bellomi, Giuseppe Petralia

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Background: The number of studies describing the use of whole-body magnetic resonance imaging (WB-MRI) for screening of malignant tumours in asymptomatic subjects is increasing. Our aim is to review the methodologies used and the results of the published studies on per patient and per lesion analysis, and to provide recommendations on the use of WB-MRI for cancer screening. Main body: We identified 12 studies, encompassing 6214 WB-MRI examinations, which provided the rates of abnormal findings and findings suspicious for cancer in asymptomatic subjects, from the general population. Eleven of 12 studies provided imaging protocols that included T1- and T2-weighted sequences, while only five included diffusion weighted imaging (DWI) of the whole body. Different categorical systems were used for the classification and the management of abnormal findings. Of 17,961 abnormal findings reported, 91% were benign, while 9% were oncologically relevant, requiring further investigations, and 0.5% of lesions were suspicious for cancer. A per-subject analysis showed that just 5% of subjects had no abnormal findings, while 95% had abnormal findings. Findings requiring further investigation were reported in 30% of all subjects, though in only 1.8% cancer was suspected. The overall rate of histologically confirmed cancer was 1.1%. Conclusion: WB-MRI studies of cancer screening in the asymptomatic general population are too heterogeneous to draw impactful conclusions regarding efficacy. A 5-point lesion scale based on the oncological relevance of findings appears the most appropriate for risk-based management stratification. WB-MRI examinations should be reported by experienced oncological radiologists versed on WB-MRI reading abnormalities and on onward referral pathways.

Original languageEnglish
Article number34
JournalCancer Imaging
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - May 11 2020


  • Cancer screening
  • Incidental findings
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • MRI
  • Whole body screening
  • Whole-body imaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiological and Ultrasound Technology
  • Oncology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


Dive into the research topics of 'Whole-body magnetic resonance imaging (WB-MRI) for cancer screening in asymptomatic subjects of the general population: Review and recommendations'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this