Imaging Technology Improves Cancer Detection

A research team from UCSD, with counterparts at UCLA, concluded that their newly-developed imaging technique is an improvement upon current prostate imaging and could significantly affect how patients with prostate cancer are treated. The researchers published their findings in the journal Prostate Cancer and Prostatic Diseases on Jan. 6.

The journal article indicated that standard magnetic resonance imaging of the prostate “lacks sensitivity in the diagnosis and staging of prostate cancer.” Thus, the researchers developed an enhanced MRI diffusion technique using restriction spectrum imaging called RSI-MRI. 

Dr. Rebecca Rakow-Penner, a research resident in the UCSD School of Medicine and the study’s lead author, told the UCSD Guardian that the new RSI-MRI technique is already part of the standard protocol for every patient that gets a prostate MRI at UCSD and has been highly successful. 

“Our published data has been on a small patient population, but so far it has been invaluable on identifying cancers that were not previously visualized with standard MRI techniques,” Rakow-Penner said.

In the study, the researchers evaluated 27 prostate cancer patients. When using standard MRI, they detected extraprostatic extension in only two of nine patients. Employing RSI-MRI, the researchers were able to detect EPE in eight of those same nine patients, as well as in the other 18.

According to assistant professor of radiology at UCSD and the study’s corresponding author, Dr. David Karow,  the technique is also valuable in surgical planning and image staging.

“Doctors at UC San Diego and UCLA now have a noninvasive imaging method to more accurately assess the local extent of the tumor and possibly predict the grade of the tumor,” Karow said in a UCSD Health System News release. “Which can help them more precisely and effectively determine appropriate treatment.”

More specifically, Rakow-Penner indicated that using RSI-MRI to accurately localize the tumor before surgery and better understand its extent allows surgeons to plan less aggressive procedures, which can affect a patient’s quality of life.

Rakow-Penner deemed it hard to predict whether or not the new technique would lead to increased mortality rates in prostate cancer patients.

She also indicated that they are performing further research on the technique to enhance its effectiveness and efficiency.

“We are developing the technique to be fused with ultrasound to better target biopsies,” Karow said. “This will allow the surgeons to minimize samples — how many different regions where tissue is taken during the biopsy procedure — and have more assurance that the cancer was sampled during the biopsy.”

Additionally, the researchers are exploring the prospect of applying this technique toward other body cancers, including breast cancer.

The National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering of the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense, Prostate Cancer Research Program, the American Cancer Society and the UCSD Extension Clinical Laboratory Scientist Training Program all partially funded this research.