What is a fMRI scan?

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is an advanced diagnostic technique that can help identify areas of the brain responsible for speech, language, vision and body movement by using magnetic fields to measure small changes in the oxygen levels of the blood that occur due to activity in your brain. Using advanced computer technology, we can build a detailed map of your brain that shows the areas that are involved in vital functions such as your speaking, vision and movements. This is clinically useful because it’s not possible to accurately predict where your speech or movement areas are located in the brain by looking at your brain’s anatomy alone. A fMRI scan is able to measure the locations of these important skills to better understand the risks of certain treatments.

At GenesisCare, we can use fMRI scans to:

    • Map your brain’s functional networks
    • Look at the effects of a tumour or epileptic lesion on your brain
    • Plan brain tumour treatments such as neurosurgery or stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS)
    • Predict and limit the side effects of brain tumour and epilepsy surgery treatments

    As with traditional MRI, fMRI is a painless and non-invasive procedure. It is low-risk and most people can receive a scan with no issues.

    We generally use fMRI alongside another MRI tool called diffusion tractography. Diffusion tractography is a technique to visualise the location of neural pathways that relay information between brain cells to generate specific actions like speech or movement. We can reconstruct this information in 3D to map out the connectivity of your brain. In this way, we can see how the different pathways important for these actions and behaviours might be affected by a tumour or other treatment target in the brain.

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    What happens during a fMRI scan?

    Before your appointment you’ll be asked to complete an MRI safety questionnaire. The magnetism from the scanner could affect any metal that you may have in your body so you’ll need to tell us of any previous operations and if you have any metal implants or electrical devices such as cochlear implants or a pacemaker. If you wear glasses, we have a limited range of MRI-compatible plastic lenses for your use, or you may prefer to wear your own contact lenses on the day if you have special vision requirements. Any further preparations you’ll need will be mentioned in your appointment letter. You can usually eat and drink as normal and continue to take medication prescribed by your doctor unless you’re instructed otherwise.

    Usually, we will try to collect any fMRI scans at the same time as your routine diagnostic MRI scan. For some diagnostics scans, you may need to have an injection to administer a special dye called a contrast media that will help highlight specific parts of your brain on the scans. This will be done by injecting the dye into a vein in your arm through a small plastic tube called a cannula. Your radiographer will let you know if you’ll need to have this before your appointment. This injection is not necessary for every scan and you shouldn’t worry if your radiographer decides to use it.

    Once you’ve arrived at your appointment, your radiographer may ask you to change into a gown and remove any jewellery or metal objects which may interfere with the scanner. A private changing area and locker for your personal items is provided for your use during the scan. A fMRI specialist will go through the fMRI tasks planned for your scan and practise these with you so that you know exactly what to expect and can ask any questions you have.

    When you’re ready to have your scan your radiographer will take you into the scanning room. They’ll ask you to lie down on your back on the couch and will help you into the correct position. For the fMRI tasks, you’ll either watch a screen or listen through earphones to task instructions. The radiographer and fMRI specialist will make sure before the start of the scan that you can see the screen or hear the instructions comfortably.

    Your radiographer will leave the room but they’ll be able to see you on a screen for the duration of the scan. They’ll be able to talk to you through an intercom system. During the scan, you’ll be shown images on a screen or listen to instructions through headphones and perform simple tests. For example, you might be asked to think of names, such as “what is a long yellow fruit?”, to map out the regions in your brain important for language. If you struggle to see, hear, or are worried that you would find these tests too difficult, please do not hesitate to discuss this with your doctor or the GenesisCare team. We work with you to adapt the tests to your abilities.

    The scan is completely painless, the hardest part is keeping still but we’ll make sure you’re as comfortable as possible before the scan starts. The scanner can make a noise while taking images and you’ll be provided with earphones or earplugs to wear throughout the scan.

    How long does a fMRI scan take?

    A fMRI scan usually takes an hour but can take longer depending on the number of tasks required for ‘mapping’ and what other diagnostic images are collected during the scan visit. Once your scan is finished, your radiographer will come back in the room and help you off the couch. You’ll be able to go straight home and carry on your normal activities. Your results will usually be sent to the consultant who requested the scan within 24 hours of the scan being completed so that you know your results as soon as possible and can have peace of mind or start planning the next steps of your care as soon as possible.

    How much does a fMRI scan cost?

    We’re recognised by all major private medical insurers and also offer a range of self-payment options.  A referral from a consultant neurosurgeon is generally required and the cost of an fMRI scan starts from £1,200

    Where can I get a fMRI?

    GenesisCare is one of the few centres in the UK that offer fMRI for treatment planning. FMRI is available at our centre in Oxford. Here we have a multidisciplinary neuro-oncology team including neurosurgeons, neuro-oncologists, and neuro-radiologists who work together to diagnose and plan treatment for our neuro-oncology patients.

    Find out more about neuro-oncology at GenesisCare.

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