PURPOSE: To estimate the incidence of occult metastases to the brain and skeleton in patients suspected of having non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) (stage higher than T1N0M0) with surgically resectable disease, to assess the accuracy of screening magnetic resonance (MR) imaging and radionuclide bone scanning for help in identifying occult metastases, and to determine the effectiveness of a high dose of MR contrast material. MATERIALS AND METHODS: Twenty-nine patients suspected of having NSCLC localized to the lung or to the lung and regional nodes underwent preoperative MR imaging with contrast material enhancement and radionuclide bone scanning for detection of brain or skeletal metastases. Patients were followed up for 12 months to determine the incidence of clinical metastatic disease. RESULTS: Eight (28%) patients had occult metastatic disease to the brain or skeleton. Brain metastases were identified on MR images in five of six patients. Bone metastases were identified on MR images in four of five patients and on bone scans in three of five patients. MR imaging was no more accurate than bone scanning for skeletal evaluation. A high dose of MR contrast material allowed detection of more metastases and of small lesions. CONCLUSION: Contrast-enhanced MR imaging of the brain is indicated for the exclusion of brain metastases in patients with clinically operable known or possible NSCLC and a large (>3- cm) lung mass. Skeletal imaging may be indicated if an isolated brain metastasis is detected.