An X-ray is the most commonly used imaging scan for most people since it is simple, safe, and low cost. Doctors use x-ray to diagnose injury and lung issues, from bronchitis to lung cancer.
An x-ray uses radiation in small quantities. The radiation (or x-ray) passes through the body, capturing an image. The rays are blocked by dense tissue, bone, and objects in the body. Radiologists look at the x-ray picture and send a report of their findings to the doctor.
CT stands for Computed Tomography. It’s a painless scan that combines the power of x-ray with computers to make images. The images are 360-degreecross-sectionall views of your body.
Doctors often use CT scans when they want to see bone, soft tissue and blood vessels at the same time. It’s also okay for a patient who has metal in their body to have a CT. Because of this capability, it is a common scan for a cancer patient to have.
CT scans often involve oral and/or intravenous contrast. This clear, tasteless liquid helps radiologists see certain things in the scan, such as lymph nodes, better. During the scan, you lay on a scanner table. The table will move you through the scanner, while the technologist will take the images from outside of the room. Depending on what your doctor needs from the scan, it takes from 10 to 30 minutes.
Your doctor may order an MRI if he or she wants a good picture of soft tissues such as your organs, your brain, or other internal structures. Unlike x-ray and CT scans, MRI doesn’t use radiation. Instead, it uses powerful magnets to take cross section images, or “slices.” This scan takes from 30 minutes to an hour.
Because a patient must lay on a table in a small tube for a long time, it’s not an ideal scan for people who are claustrophobic. Other patients who can’t have an MRI are those who have any metal in their body—including tattoos with metal ink. That’s because the magnets are so powerful that they could pull a car through a brick wall. Imagine what that would do to a patient with a metal implant!
Whether it’s an x-ray, a CT, or MRI, your doctor will know the best imaging scan for your needs. They’re very careful about safety. If your doctor orders a scan, it is because they believe the risk of letting a suspected problem go undiagnosed outweighs any potential risk the scan may have. Thanks to low dose radiation, and careful precautions, imaging technology has become quite safe.
The first scan Dan had was an x-ray. Doctors saw something suspicious but needed to know more in order to make a diagnosis. They performed many more scans and tests to confirm their suspicions. Throughout Dan’s treatment, he has had scans at least once every 3 months. Often they have been 6 weeks apart. At one time, needing more information, they gave him an x-ray every 2 weeks for 2 months. All of these images have given us a picture of what is was happening in his body. With that knowledge, we could make informed medical decisions.
I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since my husband, Dan was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, despite their illness.
My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.
My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com