Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, US, found 39.8 per cent of research imaging exposed potentially clinically-relevant observations outside the aims of the study.
Incidental findings can lead to a beneficial diagnosis of an unsuspected condition. But they can also generate uncertainty and lead to added cost or even harm from resultant treatment.
Researchers studied 1,426 research imaging examinations. They found 567 had at least one incidental finding, and the chance of uncovering one increased with age.
The authors said the study should allow researchers to assess the likelihood of incidental findings in their research and plan for appropriate disclosure and follow-up protocols.