If not a CT scan, then what?

January 20, 2010 by  
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A couple of weeks back, we brought you an update on the safety issues of computer tomography (CT) scans and the concerns over radiation levels.

Now, you might want to know what are the alternatives to a CT scan?

Let’s check out the currently available imaging techniques:

X-rays. X-rays are the traditional way of viewing organs inside the body. Over the years, however, newer techniques have been developed that gave better quality and more detailed images, thus putting X-rays on the verge of being obsolete. Besides, the X-ray technique, too has its share of radiation level problems.

Ultrasonography. Better known as ultrasound, this technique is so popular because it is one of few imaging techniques which are safe for pregnant women. It has, thus enabled us in recent years to view the unborn child in real time and perform prenatal diagnostics. It is also effective in viewing soft tissue organs, e.g. abdomen. The disadvantage of ultrasound is that it is blocked by bones, thus rendering it ineffective when it comes to evaluating injuries or abnormalities in bony areas of the body, e.g. head trauma.

Magnetic resonance imaging. MRI for short, this has the advantage of using non-ionizing (supposedly less dangerous) radiation. It also gives images of the best quality of non-bony tissue. It is also effective in evaluation musculoskeletal problems and most especially in the head area because it can take images in any plane. The main disadvantage of MRI is that an intravenous contrast agent is usually needed. It is also dangerous when metals are present in the body, e.g. implant. Thus, a preliminary X-ray or scan may sometimes be necessary to make sure that the patient’s body is metal-free. The scanning takes about 30 minutes. For this reason, MRI is not a practical technique in evaluating traumas wherein speed of the diagnosis is essential because preparation for the procedure takes time.

MRI, however, is a very sensitive tool in detecting cancers. Studies have shown, for example, that MRI can detect tumors missed by mammography and ultrasounds in women with dense breast tissues.

However, a recent study revealed that many women, even those at high risk for breast cancer are reluctant to undergo MRI, mainly for two reasons: the use of a contrast agent and claustrophobia.

 According to Dr. Wendie A. Berg, breast imaging specialist at American Radiology Services, Johns Hopkins – Green Spring Station in Lutherville, Md:

 “Given that MRI is promoted as a very sensitive test to identify early breast cancer, we were surprised that barely half of women at increased risk for breast cancer would undergo MRI even when offered at no cost. This suggests the need for alternative methods, such as ultrasound, to help screen women at increased risk for breast cancer.”

 To weigh your options about which diagnostic tool to go for, talk to your doctor. You can also learn more about imaging techniques at www.radiologyinfo.org/

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.

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