MRI technique may provide earlier cervical cancer diagnosis

In collaboration with the Press Association

Scientists funded by Cancer Research UK have revealed that it may be possible to identify cervical cancer in its early stages using a new magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique.

The high-resolution MRI technique uses a special vaginal coil to image the cervix and measure the movement of water within tissue.

It provides better images of smaller tumours than existing techniques and may help to improve surgical options for women who still hope to have children in the future.


Study author Nandita deSouza, professor and co-director of the Cancer Research UK Clinical Magnetic Resonance Research Group at the Institute of Cancer Research in London, revealed: "Small lesions are often difficult to image, but imaging their full extent is important in surgical planning.

"By adding this technique to image the diffusion - or movement - of water within tissue, we can improve the accuracy of detecting small tumours."

According to Professor deSouza, the procedure can be performed in just 15 minutes and causes no more discomfort than a smear test.

Clinical trials have raised hopes that the technique could become a routine diagnostic test in the future.

The researchers recruited 59 women between the ages of 24 and 83, including 20 women who had abnormal cervical tissue detected during a routine screen, 18 who had been diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer, and 21 women who needed to be tested for invasive cervical cancer.

The new imaging technique was performed on all of the women and the researchers found that there was less movement of water through cancerous tissue than through normal tissue.

Commenting on the findings, which are published in Radiology journal, Professor deSouza said: "Measurement of water diffusion enabled us to differentiate cervical cancers from the normal glandular lining of the cervix.

"Use of these measurements in conjunction with conventional MRI makes detection of early-stage cervical cancer easier. I am hopeful that this technique will be used routinely in the future in patients with suspected small tumours."

Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, which funded the study, said: "This small study is extremely promising and provides a clear rationale for more extensive studies.

"Cancer Research UK has identified imaging research as a priority and we have invested £50 million over five years, in partnership with other funding bodies, to help us achieve our aim of improving the detection and diagnosis of cancer through this exciting field of cancer research."