This article by Ambra Health CEO, Morris Panner, was originally published in Forbes on July 22, 2020.
Even as the coronavirus pandemic has captured the world’s attention, sent researchers scrambling for solutions and taken a tragic toll on human life, the scourge of cancer is still here. The good news is that life-saving research in many fields has continued, and the radiology field has been seeing a number of significant advances that are having a powerful affect on oncology.
State-of-the-art imaging systems are increasingly allowing radiologists to see disease progression with a level of detail never before thought possible, and these evolving capabilities are proving to be extremely valuable in the fight against cancer.
I’d like to share with you three ways that advances in imaging technology are currently transforming the ongoing battle with cancer:
1. Tumor Assessment
The abnormal growth of tissue that we call a tumor is one of the telltale signs of many different types of cancer. While the primary goal with cancerous tumors is usually to get them out of the body, researchers are finding that the tumor itself can provide a lot of useful information to help us better understand a patient’s cancer and determine the best mode of treatment.
Superior imaging is key here, as it has enabled researchers to get a greater understanding of cancer biology and characteristics early on. Traditionally, it wasn’t until a biopsy was performed that treatment decisions could really start to be made in earnest. But, more and more, detailed scans are enabling doctors to perform tumor analyses at the early imaging stage.
Research like this paper published in Clinics in Oncology points to the idea that innovations in radiology may present oncologists with the best methods to diagnose cancer early and determine the best course of action. Biological samples offer critical insights, but just one isolated sample can’t quite compare to the more complete “view” that medical imaging can provide, offering important information about a tumor’s size and location.
Improvements in positron emission tomography (PET) are even enabling the visualization of tumors on a molecular level, making it possible to understand a tumor’s metabolism and receptor expression. These are insights that can be especially useful both during and after a patient’s therapy to assess its effectiveness.
Radiation therapy, or radiotherapy, involves targeting cancer cells and tumors with radiation in order to slow growth or shrink the mass. It’s a very common cancer treatment and can be quite effective, but it also has to be utilized sparingly because it can have serious side effects and potentially kill healthy cells as well. As a result, better imaging that might reduce the chances of harm for radiotherapy patients is a welcome development.
The authors of a review in the British Journal of Cancer explain that technological improvements in CT scans (such as new algorithms, increased sensitivity in the equipment and improved data processing) are enabling extremely high-quality imaging and leading to the creation of helpful new CT techniques. Ultimately, these innovations make it possible to deliver stronger doses of radiation with increased precision — and more advances are sure to come in this area.
3. Prostate Cancer Diagnosis
While the above-mentioned advances in imaging for tumor assessment and radiotherapy stand to benefit people with many different types of cancer, some developments are having a bigger impact on particular forms of cancer. One example of this is a “fusion biopsy” that utilizes two imaging procedures for the purpose of diagnosing prostate cancer.
As described in this report from NewYork-Presbyterian, the technique allows MRI images to be merged with “real-time” ultrasound imaging to create a 3D visualization of the prostate. This helps radiologists track suspicious areas and determine with greater accuracy the best course of action, whether that might be biopsy, treatment or further surveillance, which can help patients avoid unnecessary procedures.
Enhancing Our View Of Cancer
These are just a few exciting examples of how imaging is making a critical difference in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Looking at the bigger picture, so to speak, the possibilities are endless as images become sharper and more sophisticated.
For years, radiologists have been peering at cancer in the human body with miraculous yet limited technologies. If even those dim, blurry views have been able to facilitate many successful cancer treatments (and thankfully they have), imagine how much more doctors will be able to do to help patients when the picture is made so much sharper.