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New way to view prostate cancer that has spread to the bones

An MRI scanner

The technique combines MRI with diffusion-weighted imaging

A new imaging technique could allow doctors to accurately assess if cancer has spread into the bones of prostate cancer patients, and how severe it is.

The new technique combines a whole-body MRI scan with diffusion-weighted imaging, which can distinguish tumours from other tissues based on their structure. The resulting images provide a clear picture of how far cancer has spread in the bones and can help to predict how long patients will survive.

Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer among men and spreads to other parts of the body – predominantly to the bone – in more than 84% of patients, greatly reducing survival rates.

Whole-body diffusion-weighed imaging

(From left to right) Volume of metastatic bone disease estimated on whole-body MRI with diffusion-weighted imaging and overall survival: vol = 0.03L, >39.5 months; vol = 0.68L, 10.0 months; vol = 1.62L, 5.2 months (photo: Nina Tunariu).

Cancer that spreads to other parts of the body is known as metastatic cancer. Conventional imaging techniques – including imaging that uses computed tomography, bone scintigraphy and radioactive markers – have failed to show the true extent of bone metastases in prostate cancer patients.

Results using this new technique, published in the prestigious journal Radiology, suggest that whole-body MRI with diffusion-weighted imaging (WBDWI) could provide a new, non-invasive way of monitoring the spread of cancer in the bones and how it is responding to treatment.

Researchers tested the new technique on 43 patients with advanced prostate cancer and it compared favourably with existing measures of disease severity, such as blood tests for circulating tumour cells and measuring haemoglobin levels. These results have the potential to help doctors choose appropriate treatments for patients based on how advanced their disease is.

The findings were a result of collaboration between imaging and prostate cancer experts at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and The Royal Marsden, including Professor Martin Leach, Dr Nina Tunariu, Dr Raquel Perez-Lopez, Professor Dow-Mu Koh and Professor Johann de Bono


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