Physicians may be able to assess the severity of prostate cancers using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), according to study results to be presented at the 2010 Medical Image Computing and Computer Assisted Intervention Conference.

For the study, researchers from Rutgers University obtained prostate gland images from 19 patients who later had radical prostatectomies and examined both traditional magnetic resonance (MR) images and MR spectroscopy, a method which maps concentrations of certain chemicals to locations in the prostate gland. The authors explained that changes in concentrations of the chemical metabolites indicate the presence of cancer. Researchers also compared the MR images and spectra to digital images of the excised glands, which pathologists identified as having high-grade or low-grade tumors using the established Gleason Grading System. Lastly, they used pattern recognition techniques to recognize characteristics of areas in the MR images and spectra that corresponded to the cancerous tissue in the excised samples.

Researchers reported that they achieved over 90% accuracy in identifying low-grade from high-grade prostate cancers by running computer analyses of the images of spectra made from the study participants.

“The breakthrough we’ve had in the last few months is that we see image signatures that distinguish aggressive cancer from less aggressive ones,” said Anant Madabhushi, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Rutgers and a member of The Cancer Institute of New Jersey. “Now we’re getting beyond merely identifying whether a person has cancer or not,” Madabhushi added. “This could lead to better patient management and cost savings.”