Decreasing incidence sudden death due to undiagnosed primary central nervous system tumors

C. G. Eberhart, A. Morrison, K. A. Gyure, J. Frazier, J. E. Smialek, J. C. Troncoso

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


• Context. - Although most fatal brain tumors are diagnosed well before a patient's death, occasionally medical examiners and coroners encounter cases in which the presence of a primary tumor of the central nervous system (CNS) was not suspected prior to death. Analysis of such cases can shed light on specific pitfalls hindering the diagnosis of brain tumors. In addition, by analyzing the incidence of these cases in a large autopsy series, one can draw conclusions about the evolving effectiveness of medical diagnosis. Objective.- To determine the incidence of deaths due to undiagnosed primary CNS tumors in the era of advanced neuroimaging techniques. Design. - Records from forensic autopsies performed during a 20-year period (1980-1999) at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of the State of Maryland were reviewed to identify cases in which death was caused by primary CNS tumors undiagnosed prior to the patient's death. Results. - We present 11 cases of undiagnosed primary CNS tumors resulting in sudden death that were identified among 54 873 forensic autopsies. Sudden deaths due to undiagnosed CNS neoplasms account for a significantly lower percentage of cases in our study (0.02%) than in similar series reported prior to 1980 (≥0.16%). Conclusions. - We hypothesize that improvements in imaging techniques, notably the introduction of computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging, have resulted in increased early detection of CNS neoplasms. However, vague or short-term symptoms and limited health care access can dissuade patients from seeking medical attention and result in failure to diagnose these tumors correctly.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1024-1030
Number of pages7
JournalArchives of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 22 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Medical Laboratory Technology


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