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Virtual Autopsies? Don’t Toss The Scalpel Yet

November 23, 2011
Written by: , Filed in: Diagnostic Imaging
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The virtual autopsy—using CT, MRI, or both instead of conventional invasive procedures—shows promise but isn’t ready for prime time.

That’s the conclusion (phrased somewhat differently) of a new study published online Tuesday in The Lancet. However, the study did say:

If used as a pre-autopsy screen, imaging might avoid unnecessary autopsies (e.g., for ruptured aortic aneurysm), identify lesions difficult to diagnose by dissection, and help to guide dissection by identification of pathologies needing further investigation.

Conventional autopsies can be expensive, and survivors of the deceased often raise religious objections to dissection. So researchers at Manchester and Oxford in the United Kingdom conducted a study from April 2006 through November 2008. They ran whole-body CT and MRI scans on 182 “unselected” deceased adults and followed up with full autopsies. Two radiologists read each CT and MRI scan without knowing the autopsy results.

More than half the time, the radiologists agreed with the pathologists, with CT being more accurate than MRI. However, imaging turned out to be pretty bad at detecting some common causes of death, including arterial blockages, pneumonia, and intra-abdominal lesions. On the other hand, it did better than conventional autopsies at picking up collapsed lungs and some bone fractures. And scans, unlike tissue samples, can be preserved indefinitely for possible later reanalysis.

An accompanying commentary summed up the obvious:

Post-mortem imaging cannot yet be regarded as a universal substitute for autopsy.

The study also noted some “practical and clinical governance considerations”:

Where will imaging be done? If clinical facilities are used, providers should ensure that services for living patients are not disrupted.

Um, yeah. Good point.

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Related seminar: Computed Body Tomography: The Cutting Edge


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One Response to “Virtual Autopsies? Don’t Toss The Scalpel Yet”

  1. Radiology Daily»AlertArchive » Chain Of Virtual Autopsy Centers Planned on August 21st, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    […] effectiveness of digital autopsies compared with conventional autopsies, as we’ve reported here and […]