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DESCRIPTIONMagnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) is a noninvasive technique that can be used to measure the concentrations of different chemical components within tissues. The technique is based on the same physical principles as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and the detection of energy exchange between external magnetic fields and specific nuclei within atoms. With MRI, this energy exchange, measured as a radiofrequency signal, is then translated into the familiar anatomic image by assigning different gray values according to the strength of the emitted signal. The principal difference between MRI and MRS is that in MRI, the emitted radiofrequency is based on the spatial position of nuclei, while MRS detects the chemical composition of the scanned tissue. The information produced by MRS is displayed graphically as a spectrum with peaks consistent with the various chemicals detected. MRS may be performed as an adjunct to MRI. An MRI image is first generated, and then MRS spectra are developed at the site of interest, at the level of the voxel (3-dimensional volume X pixel). The voxel of interest (VOI) is typically a cube or rectangular prism with a dimensional pixel with a volume of 1 to 8 cm³. While an MRI provides an anatomic image of the brain, MRS provides a functional image related to underlying dynamic physiology. MRS can be performed with existing MRI equipment and modified with additional software and hardware.
MRS has been studied most extensively in a variety of brain pathologies. In the brain, both 1-H (i.e., proton) and 31-P are present in concentrations high enough to detect and thus have been used extensively to study brain chemistry. Proton MRS of the brain reveals 6 principal spectra:
Different patterns of the above spectra and others, such as myo-inositol and glutamate/glutamine, in the healthy and diseased brain, are the basis of clinical applications of MRS. The MRS findings characteristically associated with non-necrotic brain tumors include elevated choline (Cho) levels and reduced N-acetylaspartate (NAA) levels. The International Network for Pattern Recognition using Magnetic Resonance (http://azizu.uab.es/INTERPRET/index.html) has developed a user-friendly computer program for spectral classification and a database of 300 tumor spectra with histologically validated diagnoses to aid radiologists in MRS diagnosis.
All the findings reported in this policy refer to proton MRS, unless otherwise indicated.
One of the limitations of MRS is that it provides the metabolic composition of a given voxel, which may include more than one type of tissue. For some applications, the voxels are relatively large (eg, >1 cm³), although they may be somewhat smaller using a 3T MRI machine versus a 1.5T magnet. High field strength increases the signal to noise ratio and spectral resolution. The 3T technique creates greater inhomogeneities, however, which require better shimming techniques. There are 2 types of MRS data acquisition: single voxel or simultaneous multivoxel, also called chemical shift imaging. Reliable results are more difficult to obtain from some areas, eg, close to the brain surface or in children with smaller brains because of the lipid signal from the skull. Some techniques are used to deal with these issues; various MRS techniques continue to be explored as well. A combination of MRS is often used with other MRI techniques, including diffusion-tensor imaging, susceptibility-weighted imaging, etc., and possibly other types of imaging such as positron emission tomography (PET).
Peripheral applications of MRS include the study of myocardial ischemia, peripheral vascular disease, and skeletal muscle. Applications in non-CNS oncologic evaluation have also been explored. New nomograms for prostate cancer are being developed that incorporate MRI and MRS results.
Multiple software packages for performing proton MRS have received clearance by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) through the 510(k) process since 1993.
POLICYMagnetic resonance spectroscopy is considered investigational.
POLICY EXCEPTIONSFederal Employee Program (FEP) may dictate that all FDA-approved devices, drugs or biologics may not be considered investigational and thus these devices may be assessed only on the basis of their medical necessity.
POLICY GUIDELINESInvestigative service is defined as the use of any treatment procedure, facility, equipment, drug, device, or supply not yet recognized by certifying boards and/or approving or licensing agencies or published peer review criteria as standard, effective medical practice for the treatment of the condition being treated and as such therefore is not considered medically necessary.
The coverage guidelines outlined in the Medical Policy Manual should not be used in lieu of the Member's specific benefit plan language.
POLICY HISTORY5/28/2008: Policy added
12/28/2010: Policy description and statement unchanged. Add FEP verbiage to the Policy Exceptions section.
01/18/2012: Policy reviewed; no changes.
04/01/2013: Policy reviewed; no changes.
03/10/2014: Policy reviewed; no changes.
01/22/2015: Policy description updated regarding 6 principal spectra, limitations of MRS, and types of MRS data acquisition. Policy statement unchanged.
SOURCE(S)Blue Cross & Blue Shield Association Policy # 6.01.24
CODE REFERENCEThis may not be a comprehensive list of procedure codes applicable to this policy.