A study of a new type of MRI scan to monitor breast cancer.

Cancer type:

Breast cancer





This study tested a new MRI technique to find what is happening in breast cancer cells at that moment. 

More about this trial

Doctors use scans such as CT scans Open a glossary item or MRI scans Open a glossary item to measure the size of a cancer before treatment starts and during treatment. 

A new way of doing an MRI scan can show what is happening in cancer cells at that very moment. This new technique is called a carbon 13 hyperpolarised MRI scan. 

We know from research that there is a build up of a chemical called lactate in the areas of cancer. Cancer cells make lactate more quickly than healthy cells. And the carbon 13 hyperpolarised scan shows up this build up of lactate.

The research team wanted to see if it was possible and safe to do these scans in people with breast cancer. So, they scanned a few people before their treatment.

Summary of results

Researchers found the scan was safe and possible to do for people with breast cancer. They were able to measure the changes within the breast cancer cells at that moment in time. 

This trial was open for people to join between 2016 and 2018. Researchers published results in 2020.

About this study
This was a very small study. 7 women with early breast cancer took part. 

Everyone had an injection of pyruvate followed by the MRI scan.

Pyruvate is a sugar like substance that is found naturally in the body. Before the test, the researchers cooled the pyruvate to a very low temperature. They then magnetised the molecules with very strong magnets. This is so that it shows up on an MRI scan.

They then thawed the pyruvate before people had the injections. 

The trial team used the scan to measure how fast the cancer was processing (metabolising) the pyruvate. This is a measure of how fast growing or aggressive the cancer is. And gives a very detailed picture of the cancer.

In all 7 people, the scan showed this conversion from pyruvate to lactate happening in real time within the cancer.

Side effects
There weren’t any side effects as a result of taking part in this trial. 

The researchers showed that it was safe and possible to do the scan. And it was possible to measure how the breast cancer cells processed pyruvate.

The trial team plan to do further trials in larger groups of women. They hope to find out if it’s possible to use the scans to help doctors work out which treatments will work best.  

Where these results come from 
We have based this summary on information from the research team. The information they sent us has been reviewed by independent specialists (peer reviewed Open a glossary item) and published in a medical journal. The figures we quote above were provided by the trial team who did the research. We have not analysed the data ourselves.

Recruitment start:

Recruitment end:

How to join a clinical trial

Please note: In order to join a trial you will need to discuss it with your doctor, unless otherwise specified.

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Chief Investigator

Professor Kevin Brindle

Supported by

University of Cambridge
Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute and Cambridge Centre
The Mark Foundation
Cambridge Hospital NHS Foundation Trust 

Freephone 0808 800 4040

Last review date

CRUK internal database number:


Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Deborah wanted to help other breast cancer patients in the future

A picture of Deborah

“Deborah agreed to take part in a trial as she was keen to help other cancer patients in the future. "If taking part in a trial means others might be helped then I’m very happy with that."

Last reviewed:

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