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New MRI Technology Provides More Detailed, Accurate Picture

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Even when you feel healthy, you are never sure what is going on inside your body. The latest in MRI technology can help doctors rule out disease or at least give an early warning.

"Five to 10 years ago, people were spending an hour and a half to two hours just to look at the liver. We took three minutes to look at your liver," said UNC Hospitals Radiologist Dr. Richard Semelka.

Full body imaging used to take four hours, but with the equipment, it can be done in 17 minutes.

Semelka did find kidney cysts on Dr. Allen Mask, but he said the cysts are not uncommon and should not cause any problems.

From every angle, Mask's prostate is normal and his spine looks good. CT scans offer similar detail, but they use eight times more contrast dye than MR. Some people have allergic reactions to contrast and it can stress the kidneys. Plus, there is a risk where radiation is involved.

"X-rays cause cancer, so for me to look for a cancer with something that can cause cancer may not be the best approach," Semelka said.

Without radiation, the study scanned Mask's internal organs -- his liver, pancreas, lungs and heart and his brain.

"It's one of the most compelling images I think with MRI," Semelka said of the brain.

The best news for Mask was he had no sign of cancer. The detail and expert interpretation offers the patient a high confidence of accuracy. Semelka offered Mask his study conclusion.

"The summary of this entire test is that you are doing very well," Semelka said.

A full-body MRI is expensive, averaging thousands of dollars. Insurance does not typically cover it as a screening tool, but people with a strong family history of certain diseases may feel it is worth the investment. UNC is currently conducting MRI studies and offers the service at about $1,500.


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