Last updated on Jun 22nd, 2021 at 11:36 am

Improving prostate cancer detection

A team of scientists and physicians from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, with counterparts at University of California, Los Angeles, describe a novel imaging technique for prostate cancer that is a measurable improvement on current prostate imaging.

“This new approach is a more reliable imaging technique for localising tumours. It provides a better target for biopsies, especially for smaller tumours,” said Rebecca Rakow-Penner, MD, PhD, a research resident in the Department of Radiology and the study’s first author.

The technique is also valuable in surgical planning and image staging, said David S. Karow, MD, PhD, assistant professor of radiology at UC San Diego and the study’s corresponding author. “Doctors at University of California, San Diego (UC San Diego) and University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) now have a non-invasive imaging method to more accurately assess the local extent of the tumour and possibly predict the grade of the tumour, which can help them more precisely and effectively determine appropriate treatment.”

Why tumours can evade current detection techniques

In 2014, prostate cancer was the leading cause of newly diagnosed cancers in men and the second leading cause of cancer death in men.

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The current standard of care for detecting and diagnosing prostate cancer is contrast enhanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which involves intravenously injecting patients with a contrast agent to highlight blood flow. Greater blood flow is often a requirement of growing cancer cells. When compared to surrounding healthy tissues, it’s hoped that contrast enhanced MRIs will reveal the shape and nature of any tumours present.

But many tumours do not significantly differ from surrounding healthy tissues with contrast enhanced MRI and so evade easy detection.

An imaging technique called diffusion MRI measures the diffusion of water and has been a standard imaging technique in the brain and an emerging technique in the prostate. Cancer tissues are denser than healthy tissues and typically limit the amount and mobility of water within them. But diffusion MRI suffers from magnetic field artefacts that can distort the actual location of tumours by as much as 1,2 centimetres – a significant distance when surgeons are attempting, for example, to assess whether a tumour extends beyond the prostate and into adjacent nerve bundles.

How does the new imaging technique work?

The new approach is called restriction spectrum imaging-MRI or RSI-MRI. It corrects for magnetic field distortions and focuses upon water diffusion within tumour cells. By doing both, the ability of imaging to accurately plot a tumour’s location is increased and there is a more refined sense of the tumour’s extent, said Nathan White, PhD, assistant project scientist at UC San Diego, study co-author and co-inventor of the RSI-MRI technique.

In a related paper to be published in the journal Frontiers in Oncology, the same team of researchers reported that RSI-MRI appears to predict tumour grade. Higher grade tumours correlate with higher restricted water volume in the cancer cells’ large nuclei.

“Prostate cancer can often be an indolent disease, where a patient may only require surveillance rather than aggressive surgery,” noted co-author Christopher J. Kane, MD, professor of urology at UC San Diego.

“If, by imaging, we could predict the tumour grade,” added Robert Reiter, MD, professor of urology at UCLA, “we may be able to spare some patients from prostate resection and monitor their cancer with imaging.”

Source: University of California – San Diego. The original article was written by Scott LaFee via 

Recommended reading: Could his balding head indicate a high prostate cancer risk? 

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