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Specialist MRI Detects Advancing Prostate Cancer


Monday 20 December 2010



An advanced type of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) could be used instead of an invasive biopsy to decide whether prostate cancer patients under Active Surveillance need treatment. The results of a pilot study to investigate the technique are published online today in The British Journal of Radiology.

Some prostate cancers can be aggressive while others never require treatment. Men diagnosed with early stage prostate cancer therefore have the option of delaying therapy and opting instead for Active Surveillance - regular monitoring by biopsy and testing levels of prostate specific antigen (PSA) in the blood. However, biopsies are invasive and carry side-effects while PSA testing can be inaccurate, so scientists are looking for other ways to monitor cancer growth in these men and determine if treatment is needed.

An accurate test is particularly important as recent figures show the proportion of men who opted for Active Surveillance increased from zero to 39 per cent between 2002 and 2006, and has likely become more common since NICE made it a standard treatment option in 2008*.

Scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and The Royal Marsden Hospital used a technique called diffusion-weighted MRI to scan 50 patients at their initial prostate cancer diagnosis and at a follow-up appointment an average of two years later.

Each scan was then used to calculate a figure called an Apparent Diffusion Coefficient, a measurement of water movement within tissue. The team had previously shown that these measurements are significantly lower in patients with high-risk tumours, but this is the first time they have been calculated for men under Active Surveillance.

By their follow-up appointment, 17 men had required treatment as their cancer had progressed, while 33 men remained under Active Surveillance. The team found that diffusion-weighted measurements fell between the two scans in men who progressed to treatment, but remained similar for men still under Active Surveillance.

“Diffusion-weighted MRI has a lot of potential for monitoring patients under Active Surveillance, as the scans clearly showed which men’s cancers were progressing,” says study leader Professor Nandita deSouza, Co-director of the Cancer Research UK and EPSRC Cancer Imaging Centre at the ICR. “If the technique continues to show promise in larger-scale studies, it could one day save men under Active Surveillance from the discomfort and potential complications of regular biopsies.”

Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said: “It’s important that we find better ways to distinguish prostate cancers that spread quickly and which could be fatal from those that may not even need treatment. Imaging like this has great potential to provide non-invasive, accurate ways to monitor patients to help doctors limit the number of men who undergo unnecessary treatment. It now needs to be confirmed in much larger studies before this test should be used routinely in a clinical setting.”

The study was funded by the ICR, Cancer Research UK and the National Institute for Health Research.


Media Contact: Science Communications Manager Jane Bunce on 0207 153 5106 or after hours 077217 47900


Notes to editors:

* Analysis led by Dr Chris Parker of the ICR and The Royal Marsden. “Initial management of low-risk localized prostate cancer in the UK: analysis of the British Association of Urological Surgeons Cancer Registry” published online 28 June 2010 in the British Journal of Urology International

Diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging for monitoring prostate cancer progression in patients managed by active surveillance published on December 20 2010 in the British Journal of Radiology

The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR)

  • The ICR is Europe’s leading cancer research centre
  • The ICR has been ranked the UK’s top academic research centre, based on the results of the Higher Education Funding Council’s Research Assessment Exercise
  • The ICR works closely with partner The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust to ensure patients immediately benefit from new research. Together the two organisations form the largest comprehensive cancer centre in Europe
  • The ICR has charitable status and relies on voluntary income, spending 95 pence in every pound of total income directly on research
  • As a college of the University of London, the ICR also provides postgraduate higher education of international distinction
  • Over its 100-year history, the ICR’s achievements include identifying the potential link between smoking and lung cancer which was subsequently confirmed, discovering that DNA damage is the basic cause of cancer and isolating more cancer-related genes than any other organisation in the world
  • The ICR is home to the UK’s leading male cancer campaign, Everyman, which raises awareness and funds research into testicular and prostate cancer. Much of this research takes place at the ICR’s Everyman Centre - Europe’s first and only centre dedicated to male cancer research.

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The Royal Marsden
was the first hospital in the world dedicated to cancer treatment and research into the causes of cancer. Today, as The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, together with its academic partner The Institute of Cancer Research, form the largest comprehensive cancer centre in Europe with over 40,000 patients from the UK and abroad seen each year. It is a centre of excellence, and the only NHS Trust to achieve the highest possible ranking in the Healthcare Commission’s Annual Health Check for the fourth year in a row.

For further information please contact Naomi Owen on 0207 808 2107

About Cancer Research UK

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  • The charity’s groundbreaking work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives.  This work is funded entirely by the public.
  • Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival rates double in the last forty years.
  • Cancer Research UK supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of over 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses.
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