Whole-body ‘snapshot’ could reduce need for myeloma biopsies

In collaboration with the Press Association

A specialised scan that takes a whole-body ‘snapshot’ could offer a less invasive way to monitor patients with the bone marrow cancer myeloma, according to Cancer Research UK-funded scientists.

"This research demonstrates how an advanced imaging technique could provide a whole-skeleton 'snapshot' to track the response of tumours in individual bones." - Julia Frater, Cancer Research UK

The magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan creates an instantaneous view of exactly which bones myeloma has developed in, and can be used to track how patients respond to treatment.

The scan – developed by researchers from The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust – could reduce the need for repeated biopsies, which can be uncomfortable and often fail to show how far disease has spread.

Julia Frater, Cancer Research UK's senior cancer information nurse, said: "Finding kinder ways to monitor how patients respond to treatment is really important, particularly in the case of myeloma where taking bone marrow samples can be painful. 

"This research demonstrates how an advanced imaging technique could provide a whole-skeleton 'snapshot' to track the response of tumours in individual bones. Finding ways to make treatments gentler and improve the experience for patients is an important focus for Cancer Research UK and the research we fund."

The researchers looked at the whole-body MRI scans of 26 patients before and after treatment. In more than eight out of 10 cases (86 per cent), specialist doctors were able to correctly identify whether a patient had responded to treatment.

Professor Nandita deSouza, professor of translational imaging at The Institute of Cancer Research, said: "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.

"The results can be visualised 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 also said the study was relatively small, and that the next step is to try out the technology in more patients to refine it for wider use.

The research is published in the journal Radiology, and funded by Cancer Research UK, the National Institute for Health Research Clinical Research Facility in Imaging and the EPSRC.

Copyright Press Association 2014

References

  • Giles S.L, et al. (2013). Whole-Body Diffusion-weighted MR Imaging for Assessment of Treatment Response in Myeloma, Radiology, 131529. DOI: