February 9, 2023
February 9, 2023

MRI Cancer Detection: How Routine Scans Can Protect Your Health

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MRI Cancer Detection: How Routine Scans Can Protect Your Health

Key takeaways:

  • MRI cancer detection is possible. MRI provides excellent soft-tissue contrast.
  • 3T MRIs use larger tubes, faster scan times, and detailed images.
  • Prostate MRIs with IV contrast may lead to fewer false-positive and unnecessary biopsies in prostate cancer screening.
  • Regular MRIs can be a valuable tool for cancer screening, even when you’re healthy.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a noninvasive diagnostic and screening test that allows visualization of internal organs and soft tissue structures.

These scans use magnets and radio waves instead. New technology like 3T MRI scanners and artificial intelligence may help spot cancer earlier. The use of intravenous agents like gadolinium may improve MRI cancer detection in the prostate by enhancing soft tissue contrast.  

Why MRI Cancer Detection Matters

First, we should clarify — an MRI can only image abnormalities which may or may not indicate cancer. Radiologists and other medical professionals must interpret those images and do further tests to see if cancer is present. So, by “MRI cancer detection,” we mean MRI scans that lead to cancer diagnoses.

The goal of most cancer screening programs is to find cancer early, before it has time to spread and while tumors are small and easier to treat. Because MRI provides excellent soft tissue contrast, radiologists may be able to spot the differences between normal and abnormal appearing tissue earlier-—even before symptoms appear.

But that isn’t the only reason MRI is one of the best tools for early cancer detection. It is also one of the safest.

MRI Safety and Effectiveness

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) MRI is a painless radiology technique that, unlike other imaging methods such as CT scan and X-ray, doesn’t use potentially harmful ionizing radiation.

Instead, MRI uses magnetic fields and radio waves. After extensive testing and decades of use, we know that the magnetic fields used in MRI are unlikely to cause harm when used correctly on patients who are suitable candidates.

However, MRIs may not be safe if you have certain types of medical devices, pacemakers, defibrillators, implanted metal objects, cochlear implants, metal fragments, and some types of tattoos. You should avoid contrast agents if you have an allergy to contrast dye. If you have anxiety, sensitivity to noise, obesity, and MRI claustrophobia, MRIs may prove challenging.

However, with new technology such as open MRI, which features a large, open platform, and 3T MRI with a larger bore and faster scan times, such challenges are easier to overcome.  

Possible MRI Cancer Detection in Ezra’s First 1000 Scans.

Through partner facility locations across the United States, ezra offers comprehensive MRI scanning packages like the ezra Full Body and Full-Body Plus.

Ezra’s medical imaging services may help with cancer detection. In evaluating data from their first 1000 scans, ezra noted tissue changes that may indicate cancer in around 13% of their member’s scans. Potential MRI cancer detection occurs most often in the pancreas, lungs, thyroid, and prostate.

How Does an MRI Work?

MRI cancer detection: mom playing with her baby

MRI uses strong magnets and radiofrequency pulses to generate signals from the body. In real-time, the signals are recorded, processed by computers, and displayed as images. Radiologists may view images digitally or as film.

Since MRI provides exceptional soft-tissue contrast, it may help spot smaller lesions and blood vessel anomalies like aneurysms. Plus, radiologists are continually expanding the role of MRI in detecting cancer and other diseases.

During a traditional MRI, you’ll lie down on a padded table which will slide into the tunnel of a large metal tube that is surrounded by strong magnets. Electricity passes through coils within the machine to create the magnetic field. The loud banging sound you hear is the metal coils vibrating.

With an open MRI, you’ll lie on a platform with magnet poles above and below you. It is open on all four sides. Due to the open design, these MRI scanners are quieter.

Open MRI vs. 3T: Which MRI Machine Is Better?

For patients who are larger than average, have claustrophobia or anxiety about being confined in small tight spaces, or are sensitive to noise, an open MRI may seem like the best choice. However, while the technology is always improving, open MRI machines currently produce inferior images. This is due to the open configuration and lower field strength.

You’ll be interested to note that 3T machines have a larger bore and shorter tunnels than traditional machines. They’re faster too, with some scans completed in about 30 minutes.

All ezra partner facilities scan using the latest 3T MRIs. The “T” refers to Tesla, which is the unit of measure for MRI magnet strength.

The 3T is the most advanced MRI machine technology, with magnets that are twice as powerful as some traditional MRI scanners. (A 3T MRI’s magnet strength is 3 Teslas.) Traditional MRIs are between 1.5 and 2 Teslas. An open MRI is between 0.5 and 1.5 Teslas.

Could Prostate MRI Prevent Biopsies?

Only cells obtained through biopsy or surgery can tell for sure whether a tumor is cancerous. However, some research shows that a multi-parametric MRI (one combining multiple types of images) with an IV contrast agent like gadolinium may help identify patients who are most likely to have prostate cancer and need a biopsy.

The potential for reducing the number of unnecessary prostate biopsies could improve outcomes while reducing costs, pain, and risks associated with such an invasive procedure.

Other Scans for Cancer Detection

Like all imaging modalities, MRI has limitations. It may not always provide the best images for some organs, body parts, or disease processes that involve calcifications, and for evaluating bones.

Here are some other scan types:

  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scans use radiolabeled tracers to create images that measure body functions, such as cell metabolism. They help doctors see how well organs are functioning. They are often used with CT scans.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan uses X-rays (ionizing radiation) to create images that, like an MRI, may be compiled into a 3D image. CT scans are ideal for imaging bones and looking for tumors that contain calcifications.
  • Low-dose CT (LDCT) scan uses smaller amounts of radiation to evaluate patients at high risk for developing lung cancer.
  • Mammography uses X-rays to create images of the breasts. 3D mammograms use the most advanced technology to create more detailed images.

Like all imaging tests, these methods look for tissue abnormalities. Such images may help an oncology team reach an accurate diagnosis faster.

Like MRIs, they are also useful in evaluating known cancers for metastasis. However, unlike the modalities discussed above, getting an MRI won’t expose you to harmful ionizing radiation, which may damage cells and tissue.

Ezra Offers Easy MRI Access

Happy woman smiling to the camera

Early detection can lead to earlier cancer treatments and better outcomes. The problem is, not everyone has access to outpatient radiology imaging like MRI exams, which are expensive without insurance. Those who have insurance may need to visit their primary care provider to prescribe the test and then may need a referral to see a specialist. Fortunately, ezra is shifting the paradigm.

The ezra Scan looks for tissue and abnormalities that may indicate the presence of cancer in up to 14 organs. If you are interested in being proactive about your healthcare, there is no need to wait to see your doctor or get a referral.

You can book your ezra Full Body and Full Body Plus in less than 10 minutes. The process is entirely online, but you can call with any questions.

You don’t need insurance coverage either. Ezra’s clear and upfront pricing puts you in control. You can even use your healthcare savings account (HSA/FSA) dollars to pay for some or all of your out-of-pocket costs or take advantage of in-house financing.