Published online Sep 21, 2019. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v25.i35.5233
Peer-review started: June 20, 2019
First decision: July 22, 2019
Revised: August 6, 2019
Accepted: August 24, 2019
Article in press: August 24, 2019
Published online: September 21, 2019
Colorectal cancer (CRC) represents one of the leading causes of tumor-related deaths worldwide. Among the various tools at physicians’ disposal for the diagnostic management of the disease, tomographic imaging (e.g., CT, MRI, and hybrid PET imaging) is considered essential. The qualitative and subjective evaluation of tomographic images is the main approach used to obtain valuable clinical information, although this strategy suffers from both intrinsic and operator-dependent limitations. More recently, advanced imaging techniques have been developed with the aim of overcoming these issues. Such techniques, such as diffusion-weighted MRI and perfusion imaging, were designed for the “in vivo” evaluation of specific biological tissue features in order to describe them in terms of quantitative parameters, which could answer questions difficult to address with conventional imaging alone (e.g., questions related to tissue characterization and prognosis). Furthermore, it has been observed that a large amount of numerical and statistical information is buried inside tomographic images, resulting in their invisibility during conventional assessment. This information can be extracted and represented in terms of quantitative parameters through different processes (e.g., texture analysis). Numerous researchers have focused their work on the significance of these quantitative imaging parameters for the management of CRC patients. In this review, we aimed to focus on evidence reported in the academic literature regarding the application of parametric imaging to the diagnosis, staging and prognosis of CRC while discussing future perspectives and present limitations. While the transition from purely anatomical to quantitative tomographic imaging appears achievable for CRC diagnostics, some essential milestones, such as scanning and analysis standardization and the definition of robust cut-off values, must be achieved before quantitative tomographic imaging can be incorporated into daily clinical practice.
Core tip: While encouraging progress has been made in the management of colorectal cancer (CRC), it still remains among the malignancies with higher incidence and mortality. Tomographic imaging plays a crucial role in the diagnosis, staging and evaluation of treatment responses in CRC; however, it may also conceal critical information that could guide treatment decisions. The quantitative analysis of computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography/CT images could unveil novel promising biomarkers in the form of numerical parameters. These parameters, if validated in terms of their clinical significance, may contribute to redefining the role of diagnostic imaging and improving CRC management.