MRI identifies blood flow in cervical tumors, predicts outcomes

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Dec. 6 — Measuring both the level of red blood cells in the body and the blood flow in tumors using MRI helps to predict which cervical cancer patients are likely to have a better outcome, according to researchers at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“We must look at how the oxygenation in the circulation and the vasculature of each individual tumor interact,” said Nina Mayr, MD, a researcher and chair of radiation medicine at the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute at Ohio State University. “For cancer therapy to be effective, tumors must have blood flow and sufficient oxygen.”

According to Mayr, they identified a method to check the actual blood flow within tumors as they are treated by using MRI. “If we put together both the number of red blood cells that a patient’s body has to carry the oxygen to the tumor, and the blood flow within the tumor, we have a powerful predictor to tell us whether the treatment will work,” Mayr said.

Researchers analyzed the levels of red blood cells throughout the course of radiation and chemotherapy in 66 cervical cancer patients. In addition, they examined the blood supply of the tumor during therapy in each patient using innovative MRI techniques.

“We found that we must analyze both the level of red blood cells and the vasculature ‘signature’ of each individual tumor,” Mayr said. “If both are high, patients responded well to therapy and had a 91 percent chance of survival. But when both are low, patients had a 32 percent chance of tumor recurrence, and only a 56 percent chance of survival.”

Patients often receive transfusions or stimulating factors that boost their low red blood cell levels, but those treatments can be expensive, uncomfortable and somewhat risky, she said.

The results show that there now may be a way to “predict whether that treatment will work for each individual patient,” Mayr said. “This new information may help to make cancer care more personalized by using transfusions in patients who need them most, and we may be able to avoid them in those who will do well without them.”