A breakthrough in imaging techniques could significantly improve early detection and care for people with cancer, especially those with multiple tumors.

The research will be announced today at the 2015 annual meeting of the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging (SNMMI) in Baltimore, Maryland.

Scientists have developed a technique for clinical PET (positron emission tomography) imaging that uses innovative bed positioning and advanced data analysis. The method also uses a chemical tracer that aids in the detection of tumor lesions.

The new approach allows the creation of whole body “maps” from which radiologists can make evaluations of tumors and metastases as well as secondary malignant growths that occur away from the primary cancer site.

“For patients with multiple tumors, this technology could significantly improve the contrast and quantitation of their PET scans and, therefore, the quality of their care,” said Ning Guo, Ph.D., a research fellow in the department of radiology at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Guo added the imaging could have an impact on disease management by contributing to earlier diagnosis and more accurate prognosis.

“It not only discriminates among benign tumors, inflammation, and malignancy,” he said, “but also provides insight about malignant lesions that are atypical or unclear, a common challenge when using PET.” 

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Utilizing More Than One View

Existing clinical PET scanners have only one position, which allows for only a limited field of view — a small picture of less than 1 foot of the patient’s body, Guo said. 

This limitation makes it impossible to evaluate multiple cancerous lesions in other body areas. With the new, whole-body technique, the imaging “bed” moves between different views to capture a complete picture of lesions throughout the patient’s body within a specific time frame. 

The research was conducted by Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston in conjunction with scientists who carried out imaging on patients at Peking Union Medical College Hospital in Beijing, China.

In the study, 16 lung cancer patients went through an hour-long PET scan that included the measuring of data from four different bed positions. The resulting precise, whole-body maps clearly captured primary tumors in the lung as well as scattered lesions, researchers said. 

According to the SNMMI, this new method of PET imaging — after continued study and pending regulatory approval — could be used in clinical imaging for lung cancer. It also has the potential to be used to detect a range of other cancers.

The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2015 about 221,200 new cases of lung cancer will be diagnosed in the United States and 158,040 patients will die from the disease. 

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