Review Article

Prostate cancer diagnosis and characterization with mass spectrometry imaging

Published online:



Prostate cancer (PCa), the most common cancer and second leading cause of cancer death in American men, presents the clinical challenge of distinguishing between indolent and aggressive tumors for proper treatment. PCa presents significant alterations in metabolic pathways that can potentially be measured using techniques like mass spectrometry (MS) or MS imaging (MSI) and used to characterize PCa aggressiveness. MS quantifies metabolomic, proteomic, and lipidomic profiles of biological systems that can be further visualized for their spatial distributions through MSI.


PubMed was queried for all publications relating to MS and MSI in human PCa from April 2007 to April 2017. With the goal of reviewing the utility of MSI in diagnosis and prognostication of human PCa, MSI articles that reported investigations of PCa-specific metabolites or metabolites indicating PCa aggressiveness were selected for inclusion. Articles were included that covered MS and MSI principles, limitations, and applications in PCa.


We identified nine key studies on MSI in intact human prostate tissue specimens that determined metabolites which could either differentiate between benign and malignant prostate tissue or indicate PCa aggressiveness. These MSI-detected biomarkers show promise in reliably identifying PCa and determining disease aggressiveness.


MSI represents an innovative technique with the ability to interrogate cancer biomarkers in relation to tissue pathologies and investigate tumor aggressiveness. We propose MSI as a powerful adjuvant histopathology imaging tool for prostate tissue evaluations, where clinical translation of this ex vivo technique could make possible the use of MSI for personalized medicine in diagnosis and prognosis of PCa. Moreover, the knowledge provided from this technique can majorly contribute to the understanding of molecular pathogenesis of PCa and other malignant diseases.

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This work was supported by PHS NIH grants R01CA115746 and R01CA115746-08S1 to L.L.C., and R01 CA201469 and P41EB015898 to N.Y.R.A., and by MGH Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging.

Author contributions

A.K., L.A.V., and T.L.F.: literature research and manuscript preparation; P.H. and N.Y.R.A.: review; L.L.C.: funding, manuscript preparation, and review.

Author information


  1. Department of Pathology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA

    • Annika Kurreck
    • , Lindsey A. Vandergrift
    • , Taylor L. Fuss
    •  & Leo L. Cheng
  2. Department of Radiology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA

    • Annika Kurreck
    • , Lindsey A. Vandergrift
    • , Taylor L. Fuss
    •  & Leo L. Cheng
  3. Department of Hematology and Oncology, Charité Medical University of Berlin, Berlin, Germany

    • Annika Kurreck
    •  & Piet Habbel
  4. Department of Neurosurgery, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA

    • Nathalie Y. R. Agar
  5. Department of Cancer Biology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, MA, USA

    • Nathalie Y. R. Agar
  6. Department of Radiology, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA

    • Nathalie Y. R. Agar


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Conflict of interest

N.Y.R.A. is co-founder of BayesianDx and scientific advisor to inviCRO. The other authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Leo L. Cheng.