Belgian investigators presented new research at the European Respiratory Society’s Annual Congress in Amsterdam. They discovered that a diffusion-weighted MRI scan (a new method of diagnostic imaging) could enable more accurate diagnosis of lung cancer and therefore prevent unnecessary surgery. This new method is more precise in distinguishing benign lung lesions from cancerous ones in comparison with PET-CT scans.

At present, doctors use PET-CT scans in order to determine the stage of the disease and whether the lung lesions detected are cancerous. This technique consists of a CT scan that takes pictures from around the body as well as a PET scan which shows uptake within the structures of the body after small doses of an radioactive drug is injected.

The benefit of the new method is that it is non-invasive and does not require any radiation exposure.

50 individuals scheduled to be operated on following diagnosis of lung cancer, or suspected lung cancer, assessed by PET-CT scan, were examined by the investigators. One day prior to their surgery the same 50 individuals underwent a diffusion-weighted MRI scan.

The results revealed that 33 individuals were correctly diagnosed, 7 incorrectly and 10 were undetermined with PET-CT scans, compared to 45 individuals correctly diagnosed and 5 incorrectly with diffusion-weighted MRI scans. When using the diffusion-weighted MRI scan the 10 cases that were undetermined by the PET-CT scan were correctly diagnosed.

Dr Johan Coolen, from University Hospitals Leuven in Belgium, explained:

“Our study has shown that diffusion-weighted MRI scans could become an appropriate diagnostic instrument for preoperative lung cancer patients in the near future because they have a high accuracy for differentiating benign from malignant lung lesions.

PET/CT scans can wrongly diagnose cancer as they can misinterpret inflammation in the lungs as a malignant lesion. Especially in these inflammatory lesions, diffusion weighted MR is more accurate which could help avoid unnecessary surgical procedures for those people without malignant disease. In addition, it could help to classify patients with lung cancer to enable doctors to provide the most effective therapeutic procedures.”

Professor Marc Decramer, President of the European Respiratory Society, stated:

“It is crucial that we continue to evaluate new diagnostic technologies and look at incorporating these into our management of lung cancer. A key recommendation of the European Respiratory Roadmap, which has been launched this week to steer the future of respiratory medicine, is to focus on effective screening processes. In a bid to improve patient care, the roadmap also suggests that personalized targeted medicine will improve a patient’s quality of life. With the development and evaluation of new technologies such as the diffusion-weighted MRI scan, we can work towards achieving these goals.”

Written by Grace Rattue