Using both computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to target radiation therapy can help prevent erectile dysfunction in men who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center studied 25 patients who underwent this combination method to target the prostate more precisely, while sparing the blood vessels that control erectile function.

Typically, oncologists use only CT to pinpoint the prostate and target radiation treatment, but CT cannot provide a view of the end of the prostate. Instead, doctors must estimate where the prostate ends.

"Because we can't see any detail of this area on CT scans, we just assume if we treat below the prostate, it's no big deal," says study author Dr. Patrick W.  McLaughlin, clinical professor of radiation oncology.

"But it is a big deal," McLaughlin asserts. "There is no cancer below the prostate, but there are critical structures related to erectile dysfunction as well as urine sphincter function. Treating below the prostate may result in needless problems."

The combination of CT and MRI provides a more complete image of the prostate and enables doctors to avoid critical blood vessels that are below it. Preliminary results from this study suggest that avoiding these blood vessels prevents erectile dysfunction following radiation therapy.

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