Young cancer patients now do not need to be exposed to radiation to detect tumours as scientists have come up with a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique that uses a new contrast agent to find tumours.
The new method has been developed by researchers from the Stanford University Medical Center and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford.
Researchers found that both MRI-based method and positron emission tomography-computed tomography (PET-CT) technology are effective in detecting tumours.
But whole-body PET-CT method is equivalent to exposing the patient to as much radiation as 700 chest X-rays. Experts say the high-level exposure is risky for children and teenagers and increases their chance of developing secondary cancer later in life.
"I'm excited about having an imaging test for cancer patients that requires zero radiation exposure," said senior author Heike Daldrup-Link, MD, associate professor of radiology at Stanford and a diagnostic radiologist at the hospital.
MRI scans need around two hours for the detection and the existing contrast agents do not last long enough to allow a lengthy, whole-body MRI. And in many organs, MRI is not able to differentiate between healthy and cancerous tissues. On the other hand, a whole-body PET-CT needs only a few minutes.
The Stanford researchers used a new contrast agent comprising nanoparticles of iron for which they got a nod from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), US. The FDA has also approved its usage to treat anaemia.
The best part about these nanoparticles is that they can stay in the body for many days and during MRIs they make blood vessels look brighter. These particles also make healthy bone marrow, lymph nodes, liver and spleen look darker, thus making the process of detecting tumours easy.
The study was published in The Lancet Oncology.