New MRI Applications Could Reduce Unneeded Prostate Cancer Therapy

The standard blood test for PSA (prostate specific antigen), a digital rectal exam and follow-up screenings and biopsies is the way most prostate cancer patients are initially diagnosed. But the natural follow-up question—How serious is it?— is much harder to answer. That’s why as many as 100,000 American men with low-level prostate cancer opt to be "better-safe-than-sorry" each year and proceed with surgery, radiation or chemical therapy, instead of watchful waiting.

Unfortunately, the side effects of various treatments can be both inconvenient and severe (e.g. incontinence, impotence, discomfort, treatment-related toxicity, etc.), based on the individual. That’s why researchers at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, funded by donations, are seeking new ways to give patients and physicians better decision-making information with MRI technology.

According to Anurag K. Singh, MD, Director of Clinical Radiation Research and a Roswell Park clinician, "This research may tell us which patients really will benefit from treatment and which can be watched safely without a high risk of having their disease progress and become less curable. As a result, many men may avoid the side effects of treatment."

Over the past 20 years, MRI scans have become routine tools for harmlessly visualizing conditions inside the body. Dr. Singh, working closely with co-investigators from the departments of Urology and Radiology, hopes to determine if the non-invasive technology can yield enough information to identify patients who require immediate treatment.

The project, he says, will also enable researchers to advance practical techniques. MRI records will make it possible to compare a series of "snapshots," taken months or years apart, with real-time images, simplifying the task of tracking a cancer’s progress. And MRI-guided tools will dramatically increase the reliability, consistency, and accuracy of biopsies performed to confirm diagnoses.