The new technique provides better imaging of smaller tumours and may also improve surgical options when fertility-sparing procedures are being considered.
"Small lesions are often difficult to image, but imaging their full extent is important in surgical planning," said study author Nandita deSouza, F.R.C.R., professor and co-director of the Cancer Research UK Clinical Magnetic Resonance Research Group at The Institute of Cancer Research in London, U.K.
"By adding this technique to image the diffusion, or movement, of water within tissue, we can improve the accuracy of detecting small tumours."
In the 22-month study period, 59 women, ages 24 to 83, were accepted for inclusion into the study and placed into two groups.
Group 1 consisted of 20 women awaiting biopsies due to abnormal cervical tissue development at screening and 18 women who had invasive cervical cancer confirmed by biopsy. Group 2 consisted of 21 women in whom it was necessary to evaluate the presence of the invasive disease.
The patients underwent high-resolution MRI with the addition of a ring coil inserted into the vagina and positioned around the cervix. The coil was designed specifically to image the cervix and enabled measurement of diffusion of water within the tissue cells.
The researchers found that the diffusion of water was reduced in cancerous tissue compared to normal tissue.
"Measurement of water diffusion enabled us to differentiate cervical cancers from the normal glandular lining of the cervix," deSouza said.
"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," deSouza said.
The study is being published in the November issue of Radiology.