(NaturalNews) The standard protocol for assessing the extent or development of cancer is through the usage of imaging machines like PET and CT scans, but such machines can expose the patient to loads of excessive radiation.
Now, according to new research, scientists have developed a whole-body imaging technique for children suspected of having cancer that could eliminate the exposure risk altogether.
According to Medical News Today (MNT), a recent study published in The Lancet Oncology said researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine in California have tested a new whole-body diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique that uses an iron supplement called ferumoxytol to enhance the visibility of tumors. The supplement is comprised of tiny superparamagnetic iron oxide particles detected via MRI.
Kids are more susceptible to radiation
As reported by MNT:
The research team, led by Dr. Heike Daldrup-Link, notes that computed tomography (CT) and 18F-fludeoxyglucose (18F-FDG) positron emission tomography (PET)/CT scans are the main techniques used to see what stage cancers are at and to determine the best treatment method.
But Dr. Daldrup-Link says previous research has demonstrated the secondary cancer risks associated with these techniques.
The scientists said in their study background that ionizing radiation -- high-frequency radiation that has enough energy to actually damage cells' DNA -- in early childhood development can triple the risk of lifetime cancer, compared with adults who are exposed to the radiation beginning at age 30.
Additionally, the research team notes that cumulative radiation exposure from successive diagnostic CT scans can nearly triple the risk of secondary leukemia and brain cancer later in life.
Dr. Daldrup-Link says that kids are far and away more sensitive to radiation than adults. Also, kids are more likely to develop secondary cancers because they live longer after exposure.
Researchers next want to see how well their new whole-body MRI technique, which involves no exposure at all to radiation, will compare with standard PET/CT scans, in terms of diagnostic accuracy.
More from MNT:
The investigators used both the whole-body MRI and 18F-FDG PET/CT to scan 22 children and young adults aged between 0 and 33 years who had malignant lymphomas and sarcomas.
Average radiation exposure was confirmed as zero for the whole-body MRI technique, while the 18F-FDG PET/CT method exposed patients to 12.5 millisieverts (mSv).
The investigators found that the diagnostic accuracy of the whole-body MRI technique was 97.2%, compared to 98.3% in the 18F-FDG PET/CT method. The whole-body MRI also showed similar sensitivities and specificities to the 18F-FDG PET/CT, at 93.7% vs. 90.8% and 97.7% vs. 99.5%, respectively.
More research is being planned
"Present techniques used for diagnosis and treatment, albeit effective, might bear certain risks and thus do not meet our high standards on patient care," said the research team, in discussing their findings. "This new imaging test might solve this conundrum of the need for diagnostic cancer staging procedures and concurrent risk of secondary cancer development later in life."
According to MNT, Thomas C. Kwee, of the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands, wrote in a commentary piece regarding the study that, despite the success shown thus far with the new radiation-free technique, "further work is needed before it can become a clinical alternative to" current standard imaging.
Dr. Daldrup-Link told MNT that she and her team indeed plan further research. In fact, she said the team has already begun to collaborate with six additional institutions in the U.S. to test the new radiation-free method. Those institutions include the University of California-San Francisco and Stanford University.
"We are in the process of applying for funding at the moment and if all goes well, might be able to start the multi-center trial this fall. We already received requests from two centers in Europe who want to join in as well," she said.