MR-Guided Radiotherapy for Brain and Spine Tumors

Front Oncol. 2021 Mar 8;11:626100. doi: 10.3389/fonc.2021.626100. eCollection 2021.


MRI is the standard modality to assess anatomy and response to treatment in brain and spine tumors given its superb anatomic soft tissue contrast (e.g., T1 and T2) and numerous additional intrinsic contrast mechanisms that can be used to investigate physiology (e.g., diffusion, perfusion, spectroscopy). As such, hybrid MRI and radiotherapy (RT) devices hold unique promise for Magnetic Resonance guided Radiation Therapy (MRgRT). In the brain, MRgRT provides daily visualizations of evolving tumors that are not seen with cone beam CT guidance and cannot be fully characterized with occasional standalone MRI scans. Significant evolving anatomic changes during radiotherapy can be observed in patients with glioblastoma during the 6-week fractionated MRIgRT course. In this review, a case of rapidly changing symptomatic tumor is demonstrated for possible therapy adaptation. For stereotactic body RT of the spine, MRgRT acquires clear isotropic images of tumor in relation to spinal cord, cerebral spinal fluid, and nearby moving organs at risk such as bowel. This visualization allows for setup reassurance and the possibility of adaptive radiotherapy based on anatomy in difficult cases. A review of the literature for MR relaxometry, diffusion, perfusion, and spectroscopy during RT is also presented. These techniques are known to correlate with physiologic changes in the tumor such as cellularity, necrosis, and metabolism, and serve as early biomarkers of chemotherapy and RT response correlating with patient survival. While physiologic tumor investigations during RT have been limited by the feasibility and cost of obtaining frequent standalone MRIs, MRIgRT systems have enabled daily and widespread physiologic measurements. We demonstrate an example case of a poorly responding tumor on the 0.35 T MRIgRT system with relaxometry and diffusion measured several times per week. Future studies must elucidate which changes in MR-based physiologic metrics and at which timepoints best predict patient outcomes. This will lead to early treatment intensification for tumors identified to have the worst physiologic responses during RT in efforts to improve glioblastoma survival.

Keywords: MRI; MRgRT; brain and spine tumors; glioblastoma; pseudoprogression; radiotherapy.

Publication types

  • Review