How innovative screening technology can help detect early-stage cancers

NEWS - 15TH JULY 2021

Edward Lofts, business development manager at Phoenix Hospital Group, explains how a pioneering full-body screening service will help detect cancers in their early stages

There is currently an enormous backlog of cancer cases in the NHS across the UK. This is not a new issue, but one that has been made considerably worse by the pandemic.

A recent report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Radiotherapy and Health concluded that, with a growing backlog of tens of thousands of undiagnosed patients and exhausted frontline staff, it could take years to catch up. Meanwhile, experts have also warned that many people who “missed” a diagnosis could have early-stage cancers that might not be identified until later on, potentially affecting their chances of survival.

It is no secret than when it comes to diseases such as cancer, early detection can be lifesaving. With only urgent symptomatic cases prioritised for diagnostic intervention since the national lockdown was introduced in March last year, the latest research anticipates a substantial increase in the number of avoidable cancer deaths in England as a result of diagnostic delays.

Cancer is a leading cause of death across the globe, and the disruption to cancer screening services will no doubt continue to have a significant impact on patients. We know today that cancer screening saves thousands of lives each year. It can detect cancers at an early stage and, in some cases, even prevent cancers from developing in the first place.

But it is also recognised that screening isn’t always perfect. It can miss cancers, and sometimes the tests themselves can have risks or side effects.

Edward Lofts of Phoenix Hospital Group

Edward Lofts of Phoenix Hospital Group

Advanced cancer screening
So how does the new technology at Phoenix Hospital Group differ? Our advanced cancer screening service is focused on detecting asymptomatic tumours in patients as early as possible. The aim is to give patients reassurance, while catching signs of cancer in the early stages.

The scan works by using an innovative new method of MRI scanning known as whole body-diffusion weighted imaging (WB-DWI), a non-invasive technique developed from years of clinical research to help diagnose cancer much earlier in healthy people.

The scan allows for the detection tumours throughout the entire body, even scanning areas which might otherwise be missed, such as the bladder, kidney, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, liver and pancreas, while making it possible to diagnose asymptomatic tumours, including those that are not usually the target of conventional screening programmes. One of the best things about the test is that the images are of a high enough resolution to provide an effective early diagnosis.

Unlike many forms of screening, the scan also requires no pre-scan bowel diuretics, no fasting, and no medication in advance, meaning patients can be spared unpleasant experiences and side effects.

Like all MRI scans, which work by mapping the body using magnetic fields, another significant benefit is that it does not involve any ionising radiation – a by-product of CT or x-ray scans, currently the principal method for breast cancer screening in women. Avoiding exposure to unnecessary radiation is recommended to reduce the possibility of developing cancer in later life.

The pandemic has made many people more conscious of their health. In just under an hour, the test can give patients results that could be lifesaving, or – more hopefully – ease their minds.