Background: It is often assumed that a cerebral lesion that is nonenhancing on a magnetic resonance imaging study with gadolinium contrast is a low grade tumor. Some physicians recommend observation rather than biopsy for such lesions.
Methods: The authors prospectively evaluated the incidence of anaplastic tumor histology in a consecutive series of patients who presented to a neuro-oncology service with a nonenhancing mass of the cerebral hemisphere.
Results: During a 5-month period, the authors evaluated 31 patients who had a nonenhancing lesion in the cerebral hemisphere on initial magnetic resonance images. Thirty patients underwent stereotactic biopsy (27%) or open resection (73%). The median patient age was 36 years (range, 6-63 years). There was no mortality or permanent neurologic morbidity from surgery. Twenty-eight patients had pathologic confirmation of diagnosis while their lesions were still nonenhancing. Of these patients, 9 (32%) had Grade 3 lesions (anaplastic astrocytoma or oligoastrocytoma), 13 (43%) had Grade 2 lesions (astrocytoma, oligodendroglioma, or oligoastrocytoma), and 2 (7%) had Grade 1 lesions (dysembryoplastic neuroepithelial tumors). Two additional patients (ages 33 and 59 years) who developed enhancement within their lesions during preoperative periods of observation had glioblastomas at surgery. Logistic regression was used to relate patient age to the risk of anaplasia in a nonenhancing cerebral mass lesion. Older age predicted a significantly higher risk of anaplasia (P = 0.025). The model predicted that nonenhancing cerebral masses in patients older than 44 years were more likely to be anaplastic tumors than low grade tumors. There was no "safe" age below which low grade histology could be confidently assumed.
Conclusions: Magnetic resonance-nonenhancing cerebral lesions may be histologically anaplastic, even in young patients. The risk of anaplasia in magnetic resonance-nonenhancing lesions increases significantly with patient age.