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Whole Body Scan Could Help with Bone Marrow Cancer Treatment

Update Date: Jan 28, 2014 01:46 PM EST

A new study reported that using a new kind of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan could potentially improve treatment for people with bone marrow cancer. The researchers stated that this type of method could reduce patients' reliance on bone marrow biopsies, which are often described to be very painful procedures.

For this study, the researchers from the Institute of Cancer Research, London and the Royal Marsden NHS (National Health Service) Foundation Trust recruited 26 patients. The patients had undergone whole-body, diffusion-weighted MRI scans before and after they received treatment for myeloma, which is a type of blood cancer. Typically, myeloma is monitored via bone marrow biopsies although there is evidence that these biopsies are not always effective in detecting how far the cancer has spread.

The researchers found that when doctors, who are skilled in imagining, used these scans, they were able to correctly conclude whether or not treatment was working for 86 percent of the cancer patients. The doctors were also able to determine when treatment was not working 80 percent of the time. Furthermore, the scans were able to inform the doctors the particular part of the bone or bones where cancer could be found.

The team also used a measurement called Apparent Diffusion Coefficient (ADC) to assess any changes on the MRI scans. This measurement, which focuses on water movement within the tissues, was able to identify treatment response correctly for 24 out of 25 of the patients. Overall, the researchers concluded that the whole-body, diffusion-weighted MRI scan was highly effective for the majority of the patients.

"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. It enables us to measure the involvement of individual bones and follow their response to treatment," Professor Nandita deSouza, Professor of Translational Imaging at The Institute of Cancer Research and Honorary Consultant at The Royal Marsden, said. "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. The scan is better than blood tests, which don't tell us in which bones the cancer is located. It also reduces the need for uncomfortable biopsies, which don't reveal the extent or severity of the disease."

The researchers acknowledged the fact that their study was small. Research on a larger scale would be vital in determining whether or not this type of method could be used to save more lives. The study, which was funded by Cancer Research UK, the National Institute for Health Research Clinical Research Facility in Imaging and EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council), was published in Radiology.

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