Since its introduction in the 1970s, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) has made a lasting impact on clinical practices because of its ability to help physicians diagnose certain abnormalities in the body.1 But in recent years, MRI technology has evolved rapidly, leading some to evaluate whether they should invest in the latest technology.
A few years ago, 0.6T (Tesla; unit of measuring magnetic fields) MRIs were largely exchanged for more comprehensive 1.5T MRIs2. But already, some centers are replacing 1.5T MRIs with 3.0T devices for routine tests and research3.
Dr. Gregory J. Goodworth, a body imaging specialist at SJRA, equated the evolution of 3T MRIs to cellphone cameras. He said, “Your first cell phone had a low-megapixel camera that produced low quality, grainy images. Compare that to cell phone cameras today and the crisp, high-resolution images that they produce.”4
The numbers — 1.5 and 3.0, respectively — quantify strength with which the scanners generate magnetic fields, which, in turn, could determine the precision of the scan itself. Simply put, higher the strength, greater the detail.2
Comparative Study: 1.5 vs. 3.0T MRIs
Many recent clinical trials have relied on 1.5T imaging owing to the ease and comfort of use and the tool's ability to effectively detect disease in various circumstances. A study showed that these types of scanners were especially good for monitoring certain forms of tumors (e.g., prostate gland).2
Some researchers have reported that 3.0T was similar to 1.5T MRIs in terms of patient outcomes,2 but outperformed the latter in several instances, not just confined to the magnetic resonance imaging.3
As compared to the lower-strength magnet, 3T machines are known to provide a better of quality vascular images, which could be a critical tool for invasive studies.3
An analysis conducted by Wood, R. et al. in 2012, evaluated the benefits of 3.0T MRIs for diagnosis, clinical management decisions, and patient outcomes. It found that sensitivity, accuracy, visibility, and identification of conditions, such as lesions, metastases, and multiple sclerosis, with the higher-Tesla, were much more enhanced.3
Although the type of equipment required for hospitals or imaging centers depend on several factors, it should be noted that 3T machines are priced higher than the 1.5Ts.6 But, the MRI market, as of a few years ago, was growing at a rate of 4% with revenues at $5.1 billion. Now, all eyes are on the trendsetting, higher-Tesla MRI such as the 3T, with researchers reporting significant market growth for these devices in the future.7
Benefits of 3T MRIs
Implementation of 3T scanners in healthcare settings is on the rise due owing to their use in different areas of medicine, such as, among others, neurology, cardiology, osteology, and oncology. 3T systems are also being seen in areas of pediatrics since, owing to their fast speed rates, can hurdle behavioral and anatomic challenges related to imaging children.7
Having said that, the three main reasons to upgrade to these new innovations are —
One of the most important aspects of an accurate diagnosis is image quality, and 3T MRI scanners show superior imaging abilities. Since the technology includes powerful magnetic field strength, results are obtained with high clarity, without any bargain.6
This machinery is especially practical in evaluating the health of the brain, blood vessels, muscles, and bones.5 In fact, studies conducted in the past have proven an increased sensitivity while tracking cerebral lesions with 3T devices.3
The 3T systems are also known to possess ergonomic and user-friendly interfaces for easy handling by technicians.5
In recent years, there has been an increased focus on improving the patient experience across all fields of medicine, and this certainly applies to MR as well. 3T machines are much gentler on the body as the tables are designed to alleviate pressure points. This could provide for a more relaxing and comfortable exam.6
In addition, 3T MRI could replace traditional, more uncomfortable means of biopsy. As confirmed by Dr. Goodworth, the need for invasive needles for biopsies and use in delicate areas could eventually subside, replaced by higher powered scans. For individuals with conditions that are not life-threatening, for instance, some stages of prostate cancer, the high-Tesla MRI can help in avoiding overtreatment or the risks of exposure to radiation after surgery4.
Providers, especially at major health centers, often have to contend with high patient volumes, and 3T MRI can be of great assistance here. While 1.5T MRIs are capable of reducing scan times, this can come at the cost of decreased image quality. However, 3T MRI can shorten scans without a compromise on the accuracy of images, enabling providers to manage high patient volume without any reduction in scan quality.6
That said, it's important to note that studies have not found any difference in patient outcomes to date, so clearly 1.5T MRIs are still quite capable. However, as MRI continues to be a high growth area within healthcare, it's certainly worth considering 3Ts capabilities when it comes to managing have patient volumes. but the technology itself shows promise in delivering quality diagnoses to patients, keeping in line with the fasted-pace growth rate.
Although it is mandatory that safety guidelines should be adhered to and extreme care must be maintained by healthcare professionals while handling a 3T MRI system, this advancement is surely a welcome addition to the world of health and medicine.
- Jerrolds, J. et al., 2009, ‘MRI Safety at 3T versus 1.5T’, The Internet Journal of World Health and Societal Politics, 6 (1)
- Wood, R. et al., 2012, ‘1.5 Tesla Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scanners Compared with 3.0 Tesla Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scanners: Systematic Review of Clinical Effectiveness’, CADTH Technol Overv, 2 (2)
- Chu, R. et al., 2016, ‘Whole Brain Volume Measured from 1.5T versus 3T MRI in Healthy Subjects and Patients with Multiple Sclerosis’, Journal of Neuroimaging, 26 (1), Pp 62-67
- Non-Invasive 3T MRI Scan Could Be a Game-Changer in Prostate Health, South Jersey Radiology Associates, https://www.mdtmag.com/article/2016/06/non-invasive-3t-mri-scan-could-be-game-changer-prostate-health, (accessed 2 May 2018)
- Discovery™ MR750w GEM, GE Healthcare, http://www3.gehealthcare.com/en/products/categories/magnetic_resonance_imaging/3-0t/discovery_mr750w_3-0t, (accessed 3 May 2018)
- The Pros and Cons of 1.5T V. 3T MRI: One Size Does Not Fit All, LinkedIn, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/pros-cons-15t-v-3t-mri-one-size-does-fit-all-eric-evans/, (accessed 3 May 2018)
- Kalorama: 3T Advancements Bringing New Growth to the MRI Market, CISION PR News, https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/kalorama-3t-advancements-bringing-new-growth-to-the-mri-market-300010868.html, (accessed 3 May 2018)