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Whole-Body MRI Improves Tumor Detection During Pregnancy

Radiation-free, single-step method shows better diagnostic accuracy for metastases in pregnant women compared with conventional imaging.

Janelle Weaver, Contributor
Wednesday, April 18, 2018


Cancer imaging poses particular challenges for pregnant women. Fear of fetal radiation exposure from techniques such as computed tomography, known as CT, often leads to suboptimal staging of cancer. While ultrasound and MRI avoid exposure to ionizing radiation, these methods are typically used for assessment of a specific organ or region in the body.

A study published in the May issue of European Radiology demonstrates that whole-body MRI can be used as a 30-minute, noninvasive one-stop-shop to produce the images used to diagnose and stage cancer during pregnancy. In the single-center study, 20 pregnant women underwent whole-body MRI in addition to conventional imaging, which included techniques such as chest X-ray, low-dose CT and positron emission tomography-CT, mammography, and ultrasound and MRI of specific body parts. Two radiologists evaluated primary tumors, lymph node metastases and distant metastases in the whole-body MRI images.

Conventional imaging and whole-body MRI both resulted in a diagnostic accuracy of 90 percent for primary tumors. But compared with conventional imaging, whole-body MRI resulted in higher cancer staging in 40 percent of the women. Moreover, the diagnostic accuracy for nodal and distant metastases was higher for whole-body MRI (approximately 99 percent and 95 percent, respectively) than for conventional imaging (95 percent and 90 percent, respectively).

Taken together, the findings show that whole-body MRI improves the oncologic staging and detection of nodal and distant metastases in patients with cancer during pregnancy. However, more research is needed to validate the results in a larger patient population at multiple centers. According to the authors, the accurate imaging method could ultimately improve treatment and patient outcomes.