Which Scan Is Best To Detect Bone Cancer?
If you have sudden pain in your bones or notice a fracture;
if you feel a lump or swelling in the bones of your neck or the back of your throat;
If you have numbness in a specific part of your body or witness unintended absurd weight loss, Your doctor may recommend an imaging test ( called a scan) to detect any hidden cancer growing in your bones.
Doctors recommend different scans for bone cancer diagnosis, like Bone X-ray, Computed Tomography or CT, Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRI, etc., depending on various factors like availability, expense, age, sex, overall health condition, and more.
However, they mostly talk about an MRI when discussing which scan is best to detect bone cancer.
Are you wondering why? Well, this blog shall tell you all!
What Is An MRI and How Does It Work?
MRI is the diagnostic modality that uses magnetic resonance with computer-generated radio waves to curate cross-sectional visuals of your internal organs and tissues on the computer screen. MRI can, in fact, show what other scans cannot. It can highlight your soft tissues accurately and help identify more complex and deep abnormalities.
MRI Scans take place in healthcare centers, outpatient, with no requirement of hospital stay! The scans are non-invasive and hence painless.
During an MRI scan, a radiology team shall conduct the lab operation. The team typically consists of –
- A Radiologist who supervises the entire screening process and interprets results for further medical treatment planning,
- A Radiology Technician who performs the MRI scan on your body, and
- A Helper to provide you with anything you need during the scanning process.
Once you enter the radiology lab, the caregivers ask you to lie on the moveable table in front! You may or may not receive contrast administration intravenously to enhance the image clarity. This depends entirely on the healthcare professionals!
The table, then, takes you inside a semi-circular donut-shaped, tube-like machine for the scan. The machine has strong magnets attached to its walls, which consequently provoke the atomic nuclei in your body cells to come out of their original position. And while they move back to their location, the radio waves send signals to the computer, displaying the image on the screen.
After 45 to 90 minutes, when the radiologist can extract clear pictures of your internal anatomy, they shall stop the scanner, pull you out, and allow you to leave for work!
Why Do Doctors Prefer MRI for Bone Cancer Diagnosis?
There are multiple reasons why doctors prefer an MRI scan for bone cancer diagnosis, and they are as follows.
- MRIs are safer than other diagnostic modalities used for screening bone cancers, like bone X-rays or CT scans. It is because an MRI does not expose you to radiation dosage thereby leaving no room for further health complications or risks.
- An MRI can detect bone cancers at their earliest, long before a dual-energy bone scan or CT can! This is because an MRI offers in-depth information about the presence of any physical abscess in your bones. An early diagnosis is, indeed, salient to start early treatment and nip the cancers in the bud!
- MRI scans can identify whether a bone tumor is malignant (or cancerous), how big a bone cancer is, and where it exactly lay positioned. They can reveal whether you have one cancer or more and subsequently help doctors to determine the bone cancer stage.
- Since MRIs are efficient tools in picturing the soft tissues and marrow inside the bone, if cancer resides around the bones or spreads therein from your bone (the condition called metastasis), an MRI can screen that too! So, there’s no chance for cancer to hide.
- An MRI can differentiate bone cancer from other bone conditions, like inflammatory diseases, bone marrow diseases, congenital defects, and so forth!
- MRIs reduced the prevalence of overdiagnosis and overtreatment for bone cancers. The reports they offer are enough not to conduct an unnecessary biopsy invasion for bone cancer diagnosis.
How Accurate Is An MRI for Screening Bone Cancer?
MRI is the top pick by doctors when it comes to the question of which scan is best to detect bone cancer, certainly because of its diagnostic accuracy in this case! Although an MRI is not 100 percent accurate in bone cancer screening and may fail to trace a small cancerous growth, it holds a greater accuracy rate than other scanning modalities.
- A study by some researchers of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers shows that an MRI is 95.01% accurate in identifying bone cancers.
- Recent research by the National Institute For Biotechnology Information (NCBI) sheds light on the accuracy rate of MRI in differentiating between benign and malignant bone metastasis (cancer spread). The result is 82.50%!
- Another study shows that while a CT scan can detect metastatic bone cancers 84% of the time, an MRI can pinpoint them in 100% of the cases!
- Studies also highlight that an MRI is about 98.02% accurate in segmenting or staging osteosarcoma, the primary bone cancer type.
- One of the studies by Spandidos Publications exhibits that an MRI can locate chondrosarcomas (a secondary bone cancer type formed out of cells making too many cartilages) with 100% specificity and 95% accuracy.
- Research conducted by the Radiology Center of North America portrays the accuracy rate of MRI in diagnosing Multiple Myeloma lesions in the spinal bone, which is about 90%.
When Do Doctors Recommend Other Scans Instead of MRI?
Despite being one of the best scans to detect bone cancer, your doctor may not recommend an MRI.
Do you know why?
Well, it is because –
- An MRI is not always accessible to all healthcare centers because of its high maintenance cost and lower production.
- MRIs are very expensive and not affordable for all patients.
- MRI scans do not apply to patients having any metallic implants in the body, such as a pacemaker, metallic dental fillings, cardioverter defibrillators, etc. These implants, in the presence of powerful magnets, may send false signals to your computer, tampering with the test result. They may also lead to internal injuries.
- MRI scans may become suffocating for patients who have claustrophobic tendencies. So, if a more or less accurate alternative is available to screen the cancerous growth in your bone, maybe a PET/CT, your doctor shall go for it.
Now to conclude, I must say that which scan is best to detect bone cancer is yet a debatable topic! It is because there are instances where an MRI has diagnosed a false cancerous growth or misinterpreted another bone condition as cancer.
Moreover, in some time, a traditional bone scan holds the same accuracy rate as an MRI, and sometimes, a more advanced method like PET (positron emission tomography) combined with CT or MRI may be a better option!
So, you must refer to what your doctor says specifically for your case!