A ‘thermometer’ tool to measure tumor growth between scans

Researchers at Penn Medicine have developed a first-ever tool that gives a real-time assessment of tumors to provide less uncertainty for patients worrying between scans.

Many patients with glioblastoma (GBM), the most common and most aggressive type of cancerous brain tumor in adults, and other cancers, experience a sense of dread and vulnerability related to their scans that's sometimes referred to as “scanxiety.”

A cancer patient and their adult child.
Image: iStock/Jacob Wackerhausen

“Unlike in other cancers, we can’t biopsy the brain every few months to monitor a tumor, and so we have to rely on scans, like MRI or PET,” says Suyash Mohan, an associate professor of radiology at Penn Medicine, specializing in neuroradiology. “Many patients are living scan-to-scan, hoping that their tumor is responding positively to treatment, but worried that it could return aggressively at any time. When their life expectancy is only a matter of months, every month counts in treating this challenging cancer.”

In an effort to more effectively assess a patient’s individual cancer, and provide personalized, targeted treatments, Mohan collaborated with Steven Brem, a professor of neurosurgery, and colleagues to develop the first-ever tool that gives a real-time assessment of the tumor.

While there is no known cure for GBM, many treatments—such as immunotherapy—can be effective. But treatments like these can also cause inflammation in the brain, which can show up on brain scans, like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or positron emission tomography (PET), as tumor growth, also known as pseudoprogression (PsP). This PsP is difficult to diagnose and makes it difficult to quickly and accurately determine treatment plans

The new tool Mohan and Brem created acts as a “thermometer” that simultaneously interprets multiple advanced MRI imaging sequences using artificial intelligence to read the response of a patient’s tumor to treatment, and generate a “score” at that given moment in time. Clinicians can then use this score, or “temperature,” to guide therapeutic decision-making. Because the “thermometer” receives input from a number of scan parameters, each measuring a unique physiologic or metabolic process, it is able to filter out the noise, i.e., inflammation or other treatment related changes from viable tumor, and help clinicians treat GBM with precision.

Not only can this tool help clinicians react quickly to early tumor progression by switching therapies, or treating PsP conservatively, but it also helps to relieve the uncertainty and stress for patients and their loved ones.

Read more at Penn Medicine News.