Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging: A Highly Advanced Cancer Diagnosis and Prognosis Tool
Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) machines provide oncologists with a non-invasive/non-nuclear MI tool for the diagnosis and ongoing prognosis of cancer.
Oncologists added fMRI technology to their cancer fighting arsenal shortly after the very first fMRI examination took place in 1977. In July of that year, in the Brooklyn, New York laboratory of Dr. Raymond Damadian, a most remarkable machine produced revolutionary and unprecedented, three-dimensional images of the inside of a human body. In the development and construction of the first fMRI machine, Dr. Damadian relied on scientific theories that were, at the time, widely dismissed by the scientific community at large.
Far advanced from Dr. Damadian’s early and very crude fMRI machine, the devices today, as well as the technologies behind them, are of such sophistication they remain little understood by many scientists. Relying on the use of extraordinarily powerful magnets that produce forces equal to 10,000 times the gravitation pull of the Earth, fMRI technologies are assisted—in fantastically sophisticated ways—by the highly complex magnetic properties of the body’s own internal anatomical structures.
Exploratory Surgery Used to be the Order of the Day
Prior to the widespread use of advanced MI techniques, many cancers were only discovered as a result of surgical procedures that were intended to treat a specific complaint or were undertaken as an exploratory procedure. Cancer doctors once had little choice other than to physically enter the body in order to thoroughly examine bones, internal organs, and adjacent soft tissues. The highly invasive exploratory surgeries have been replaced almost entirely through the delivery of very high resolution, three-dimensional, medical imaging techniques.
Non-Nuclear Medical Imaging
The earliest MI development took place by accident in the laboratory of German Physicist, Wilhelm Roentgen in the year 1895. Conducting experiments related to the behavior of electron beams in sealed gas tube environments, as a wholly serendipitous and completely unexpected event, X-rays were discovered. The diagnostic utilization of X-rays is widely recognized as one of the most significant scientific advancements in all of human history, and the new technology offered physicians and researchers alike the very first non-invasive, two-dimensional views of internal anatomies. Unfortunately, the use of X-rays carries some minimal risk to the patient; X-rays, as well as all other radiological-based MI technologies such as Computed Tomography (CT), Computer Axial Tomography (CAT), and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) rely on human exposures to potentially harmful forms of radiation.
Low doses of radiation in highly controlled MI applications are generally considered to be safe, though, any exposure to radiation comes with some risk. fMRI technologies provide cancer patients and their physicians with a superb diagnostic and prognostic tool that does not require the use of radioactive elements. fMRI is also a much favored MI technique due to the superb adaptabilities of the technology—cancer doctors can perform vastly different anatomical and disease-specific explorations of the human body by adjusting various parameters of an fMRI scan.
The fMRI Experience
fMRI machines are extremely complex, extraordinarily heavy—fMRI magnets weigh many tons—and enormously expensive devices—the price of an MRI machine can now exceed $2 million. For the preceding reasons and more, MRI scans are only available at major hospitals and cancer centers where a patient might be scheduled for an fMRI scan in order to determine the specific location, type, and extent of malignant disease. Other individuals might be scanned to determine the effectiveness of delivered cancer therapies. Whatever the reason for an fMRI exam, no special patient preparations such as a restricted, pre-procedure diet are required. Performed and analyzed by physicians and highly trained and Certified MI Technicians, fMRI scans are painless procedures that require no anesthesia or sedation. As an additional advantage, no harmful side effects from fMRI exams have been reported, though, some patients experience a low level of discomfort as a reaction to the intravenous introduction of contrast dye that is sometimes required for an fMRI examination.
fMRI Disadvantages and Safety Issues
Due to the presence of extraordinarily powerful magnetic forces within an fMRI machine, extreme caution must be exercised by anyone who even approaches an fMRI examination area. In extremely rare instances, individuals have been killed or severely injured when metallic objects—either inside their body or the examination room itself—have been attracted to an fMRI magnet with disastrous results. fMRI screeners question prospective scan candidates thoroughly in order to determine that no metallic objects of a certain type exist within a patient’s body. Individuals with pacemakers (for example) will not be allowed to undergo an fMRI exam, while other metal objects such as surgical staples that are held in place by scar tissue will not preclude a scan. All metal objects such as watches and jewelry must be removed before entering the examination area.
Individuals should know that an fMRI machine is extremely noisy and earplugs are almost always worn. Patients must keep their body absolutely still during the imaging procedure, which in some instances, can take 90 minutes or more. Some patients who suffer from claustrophobia can experience severe discomfort in the very confined environment of an fMRI machine, though, for these patients, a new generation, ‘open bed’ fMRI machine may be used. Lastly, fMRI scans are expensive—unfortunately, the use of fMRI technology will cost cancer patients or their insurers upwards of two thousand dollars or more.
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