Diffusion MRI of cancer: From low to high b-values

J Magn Reson Imaging. 2019 Jan;49(1):23-40. doi: 10.1002/jmri.26293. Epub 2018 Oct 12.


Following its success in early detection of cerebral ischemia, diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI) has been increasingly used in cancer diagnosis and treatment evaluation. These applications are propelled by the rapid development of novel diffusion models to extract biologically valuable information from diffusion-weighted MR signals, and significant advances in MR hardware that has enabled image acquisition with high b-values. This article reviews recent technical developments and clinical applications in cancer imaging using DWI, with a special emphasis on high b-value diffusion models. The article is organized in four sections. First, we provide an overview of diffusion models that are relevant to cancer imaging. The model parameters are discussed in relation to three tissue properties-cellularity, vascularity, and microstructures. An emphasis is placed on characterization of microstructural heterogeneity, given its novelty and close relevance to cancer. Second, we illustrate diffusion MR clinical applications in each of the following three categories: 1) cancer detection and diagnosis; 2) cancer grading, staging, and classification; and 3) cancer treatment response prediction and evaluation. Third, we discuss several practical issues, including selection of image acquisition parameters, reproducibility and reliability, motion management, image distortion, etc., that are commonly encountered when applying DWI to cancer in clinical settings. Lastly, we highlight a few ongoing challenges and provide some possible future directions, particularly in the area of establishing standards via well-organized multicenter clinical trials to accelerate clinical translation of advanced DWI techniques to improving cancer care on a large scale. Level of Evidence: 5 Technical Efficacy: Stage 2 J. Magn. Reson. Imaging 2019;49:23-40.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diffusion
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Early Detection of Cancer
  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Motion
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Normal Distribution
  • Reproducibility of Results