Scientists have developed a new imaging test that could enable doctors to identify more dangerous tumours before they spread around the body - and tailor treatment accordingly.
In the journal Cancer Research, researchers from The University of Manchester and The Institute of Cancer Research describe the development of MRI technology to map areas of oxygen deprivation within tumours.
Lack of oxygen, or hypoxia, is often a sign that a cancer is growing aggressively. Hypoxia also stimulates the growth of blood vessels within tumours, which in turn can fuel the spread of cancer cells to other parts of the body.
The new study could also lead to more effective radiotherapy planning to boost the doses of X-rays delivered to dangerous, hypoxic areas within tumours, and new ways of monitoring whether radiotherapy or some drugs are working.
The researchers used an emerging technology called oxygen-enhanced MRI to produce maps of hypoxia within tumours grown by implanting cancer cells into mice. The technology is now being further developed through clinical studies of cancer patients.
Oxygen-enhanced MRI works by monitoring alterations in image intensity caused by changes in the concentration of dissolved oxygen in blood plasma and tissue fluid, during inhalation of pure oxygen gas. Some tissues take up the extra oxygen more rapidly than others, which show as more intensely changing regions under the MRI scan.
The researchers predicted that images of hypoxic tumour areas would change intensity less dramatically than better oxygenated areas.
They followed a several-step process to prove their MRI technique worked at detecting areas of hypoxia, beginning with the imaging of tumours grown from a cell line of kidney cancer cells known to lead to highly hypoxic tumours.
They then imaged a slower-growing kidney tumour type and tumours grown from a line of bowel cancer cells, to show their technique also worked for less hypoxic tumours.
Nell Barrie, senior science information manager at Cancer Research UK, said:
"When cancer cells run out of oxygen, they're more likely to spread from the original tumour, making the disease much harder to treat. Spotting this process in action could help improve treatment, especially for more aggressive tumours, and this early-stage research in mice will help to find new ways to use existing scanning technology to monitor and personalise each patient's treatment. By combining different techniques such as imaging and radiotherapy, these promising results can be translated into benefits for patients in the years ahead."
Based on material originally posted by Institute of Cancer Research.