Rodney Benjamin suffers from myeloma – a type of bone marrow cancer that affects plasma cells in the blood and can spread across bones throughout the body. It is a largely incurable disease but can be controlled if monitored constantly.
Benjamin was one of 26 myeloma patients who took part in a pilot study at the Royal Marsden Hospital in the UK to test a new scanning procedure.
Researchers refer to it as a whole-body, diffusion-weighted MRI because it uses a measurement called the Apparent Diffusion Coefficient (ADC) to record how restricted water movement is within tissues.
Doctors are not only confident it could help with their choice of treatment but that the scans could also significantly reduce patients’ reliance on bone marrow biopsies.
Professor Nandita deSouza of the Institute of Cancer Research at Royal Marsden Hospital says a bone biopsy is very painful: “Multiple bone biopsies are not something a patient would want to undergo. Also bone biopsies are limited in that you take a biopsy from a particular area of the bone and you cannot biopsy the whole skeleton. Having a scanning technique that’s sensitive, images disease within the marrow and looks at the whole skeleton at the same time is something that’s very desirable.”
According to the study, after scanning patients before and after treatment doctors were able to correctly identify whether they had responded to treatment in 86% of cases.
Such success rates enable clinicians to make better-informed decisions, respond quickly, and change drugs therapies if they are not working.
Rodney Benjamin, who was diagnosed with the disease 10 years ago, is holding on for the next development in the treatment of myeloma. As he explains, these kind of technological advances are key to keeping him alive: “Having regular imaging such as the MRI, having regular blood tests, keeping ahead, keeping in touch with all the medication that you need, is all absolutely crucial.”
Researchers stress that whilst the study is small, and the technology needs refining, its impact could potentially be life-saving.