Quantitative MRI of the Breast Parenchyma to Improve Detection and Diagnosis of Breast Cancer

University of Oxford

Isobel is developing a novel way of detecting and diagnosing breast cancer through less invasive and more effective means. One in every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime and it is the single most common cancer in the UK, with numbers continuing to rise each year. Detecting breast cancer early is the most effective way to reduce mortality yet the current use of mammography in cancer screening has substantial limitations, particularly for pre-menopausal women. MRI scanning is seen as a superior diagnostic technique, but it still suffers from several significant downsides: contrast agents which cause unpleasant side effects must be injected into the patient, the interpretation of results remains largely qualitative and relies on clinicians’ experience, and women must lie for extended periods of time in an uncomfortable position on their front.

Through her project, Isobel hopes to develop quantitative, non-contrast MRI methodologies, which will eliminate the side effects caused by contrast agents, including nausea and kidney complications. Reporting quantitative results will reduce the variability that occurs in cancer diagnosis, which currently relies on visual detection of irregularities. By using multiple MR parameters in this quantitative approach, Isobel aims to characterise different breast lesions with high specificity and enable personalised patient care. Additionally, research to date has focused on identifying and characterising tumours rather than assessing the breast as a whole. It is therefore anticipated that by applying these quantitative techniques to the breast tissue, the health of the whole breast can be evaluated. This has the potential to detect early changes to the breast tissue indicative of cancer, resulting in earlier cancer diagnoses, and to allow for measurement of the response of the breast to treatment. Patient comfort will also be at the forefront of Isobel’s work, exploring new methods to perform scans with patients lying on their back to reduce the discomfort and indignity of certain current diagnostic procedures.

Isobel Gordon is an Imaging Solutions Scientist at Perspectum Ltd. She holds a Master’s degree in Physics from the University of Oxford and has completed research placements at Perspectum and the Oxford Centre for Clinical Magnetic Resonance in Medicine, where her work was accepted to an international conference. Isobel has worked at Perspectum for three years – her work has included setting up MR sequences at clinical sites across Europe and developing quantitative MRI methodologies for the diagnosis of liver disease. Isobel will shortly begin her DPhil at the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Women’s and Reproductive Health. She hopes to combine her MRI experience with her passion for empowering women to improve the detection and diagnosis of breast cancer.

"Early detection is absolutely vital to prevent breast cancer from progressing to the metastatic stage, for which the 5-year survival rate is just 27%. This project will develop MRI technology to identify cancer at earlier stages whilst optimising patient comfort and improving the reliability of the diagnosis. I’m incredibly excited to work on a project that has such potential to improve and prolong the lives of countless women."