Functional Lung Imaging for Radiation Therapy

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in Canada. Patients who undergo radiation therapy (RT) for lung cancer face only a 14% chance of surviving for five years. In addition, they are likely to experience significant radiation-related health effects, such as impaired lung function. While current therapy attempts to reduce injury by limiting the amount of lung tissue treated, it is difficult to predict how much function will be lost. Researchers believe radiation therapy could be given at higher, more effective doses if accurate ways were identified to measure lung function within the affected area prior to treatment, and to predict how the region will be affected by radiation. Currently, as functional imaging methods such as perfusion SPECT and hyperpolarized 3He MRI (He-MRI) are being developed, predictors of radiation lung damage are emerging. FLIRT — a multidisciplinary team of radiation oncologists, and radiotherapy and imaging physicists — is researching the potential to combine these two diagnostic techniques to improve the planning, delivery and outcome of RT for lung cancer patients.