The technique uses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to map regions of oxygen deprivation within tumours.
Lack of oxygen, or hypoxia, is often a sign that a cancer is growing aggressively. It also stimulates the growth of blood vessels linked to tumours that causes cancer to spread.
The new scan could guide the targeting of dangerous tumours with high-dose radiotherapy, and track the effectiveness of cancer treatments by monitoring oxygen levels.
Study co-leader Dr Simon Robinson from The Institute of Cancer Research in London said: “Our technique uses MRI technology to detect tumours with areas of oxygen depletion, which tend to be more aggressive and more resistant to radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
“Our study provides strong pre-clinical evidence to validate the use of oxygen-enhanced MRI to identify, quantify and map tumour hypoxia.”
Oxygen-enhanced MRI works by monitoring changes to image intensity caused by concentrations of dissolved oxygen altering in blood plasma and tissue fluid. It is carried out while the patient inhales pure oxygen.
Some tissues take up the extra oxygen more rapidly than others. The scientists predicted that the image alterations would be much less marked in hypoxic tumour regions.