Why did my doctor tell me to have an MRI, what is an enhanced MRI, and how does it help my prostate cancer?

Expert Opinion published on June 28, 2013 in Basic facts
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Tomasz Beer, MD
Professor of Medicine Oregon Health & Science University
Knight Cancer Institute
Portland, Oregon
Why did my doctor tell me to have an MRI, what is an enhanced MRI, and how does it help my prostate cancer?

Hello, my name is Dr. Tom Beer and I am professor of medicine at the Oregon Health & Science University Knight Cancer Institute. I am often asked why did my doctor tell me to have an MRI, what is an enhanced MRI, and how does it help my prostate cancer? Well, first of all, an MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging and it is an imaging test that does not involve radiation, but rather uses powerful magnets to create images of the human body. It is particularly adept at imaging soft tissues and structures inside the human body, and in the management of prostate cancer it can be used to image the prostate which is sometimes done prior to surgery or prior to radiation therapy to further define the location and extent of the prostate cancer in the gland. MRIs are also often used to image lesions away from the prostate, in particular lesions that involve the bones. We often use an MRI scan to examine the spine when we are concerned about metastases or spread of cancer to the spine. MRI is also an excellent technique to image the brain, which is something we do not need to do very often in prostate cancer, but sometimes it is used there as well. You may be wondering if we use the MRI to image the rest of the body. Some of the other parts are better imaged with a CAT scan. MRIs take a bit longer than CAT scans and so, for example, lungs are difficult to image with an MRI because people breathe and things move. The CAT scans can image the lungs a bit faster. MRIs are primarily used to image the spine and the prostate. Now an enhanced MRI simply means that a contrast material, typically gadolinium, is injected into the vein and allowed to diffuse into the prostate or the bones and that enhances the ability of the MRI to distinguish between cancer and normal tissues. MRI imaging really helps us make clinical decisions. It may help us direct the surgery or the radiation to the prostate. It may help us decide whether a metastasis in the spine requires surgery or radiation or can simply be observed. Thank you very much for your attention.

Last modified: June 28, 2013
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