The National Institute for Health Research has announced that doctors could potentially use just one scan to assess the spread of a patient’s cancer instead of the current practice of multiple scans.

Two studies published in Lancet Respiratory Medicine and Lancet Gastroenterology and Hepatology show that for patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and colorectal cancer, one whole-body MRI (WB-MRI) scan can work just as well as multiple scans, offering a quicker, cheaper alternative, preferred by patients and involving less exposure to radiation.

The average cost of a WB-MRI scan for NSCLC patients was £317, half the £620 cost for multiple scans and the cost of a WB-MRI scan for colorectal patients was £216, compared with £285 for multiple scans.

The two 'Streamline' studies - the biggest of their kind to compare WB-MRI with standard scans - found that for both cancers, using one WB-MRI scan removed the need for additional scans for nearly all patients, and reduced the average time taken to assess patients by almost a week.

The results have been hailed as “promising”, with Professor Hywel Williams, director of the NIHR’s Health Technology Assessment (HTA) Programme saying that “If implemented widely, such a strategy could reduce waiting times for patients to start treatment for two of the deadliest forms of cancer.”

“This important study provides clinical and cost effective evidence which could provide useful for those planning and providing NHS scanning services to benefit patients.”

Researchers leading the study at University College London (UCL) and University College London Hospital (UCLH) say that the new scan method could reduce treatment waiting times, save lives and reduce NHS costs.