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This new ‘whole body’ MRI is better for cancer patients

MRIBy Brad Broker

A new imaging technique that can scan a patient’s entire body can also reveal exactly where cancer is affecting the bones and help doctors guide their course of treatment.

The new type of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan could improve care for a type of myeloma — one of the most common forms of blood cancer — and reduce reliance on bone marrow biopsies, which can be painful for patients and often fail to show doctors how far the disease has spread. The new scan was able to visualize cancer in almost all bones in the body, with only the skull remaining difficult to image partly because of the frequency of metal dental implants and fillings.

In the study published today in the journal Radiology, 26 patients had whole-body, diffusion-weighted MRI scans before and after treatment. In 86% of cases, experienced doctors trained in imaging were able to correctly identify whether patients responded to treatment. The doctors also correctly identified those patients who weren’t responding to treatment 80% of the time.

“This is the first time we’ve been able to obtain information from all the bones in the entire body for myeloma in one scan without having to rely on individual bone X-rays,” said Professor Nandita deSouza of The Institute of Cancer Research. “It enables us to measure the involvement of individual bones and follow their response to treatment.”

Using the scanning technique, doctors could pinpoint exactly where the cancer was in the bones, with the results available immediately. Conventional tests include bone marrow biopsies and blood tests but neither shows accurately where the cancer is present in the bones. “The results can be visualized immediately; we can look on the screen and see straight away where the cancer is and measure how severe it is,” said deSouza.

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