Diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging and its application to cancer

Cancer Imaging. 2006 Sep 13;6(1):135-43. doi: 10.1102/1470-7330.2006.0021.


Diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (DW-MRI) provides image contrast through measurement of the diffusion properties of water within tissues. Application of diffusion sensitising gradients to the MR pulse sequence allows water molecular displacement over distances of 1-20 microm to be recognised. Diffusion can be predominantly unidirectional (anisotropic) or not (isotropic). Combining images obtained with different amounts of diffusion weighting provides an apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) map. In cancer imaging DW-MRI has been used to distinguish brain tumours from peritumoural oedema. It is also increasingly exploited to differentiate benign and malignant lesions in liver, breast and prostate where increased cellularity of malignant lesions restricts water motion in a reduced extracellular space. It is proving valuable in monitoring treatment where changes due to cell swelling and apoptosis are measurable as changes in ADC at an earlier stage than subsequent conventional radiological response indicators.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Brain Neoplasms / pathology
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging* / methods
  • Female
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / pathology
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Liver Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Liver Neoplasms / pathology
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Whole Body Imaging