CT stands for computed tomography and a CT scan is used to give images of soft tissues, organs and bones but with better clarity than standard x-rays. The images will show any abnormalities and if there is a tumor, it will show its shape, size and exact location. This technology has proven useful in the treatment of cancer and is used to monitor treatment progress and sometimes even guide treatment procedures such as biopsies.
The CT scan is simple and straightforward. Here is some important information about the procedure:
- Like an x-ray, a CT scan aims a beam of radiation on a specific part of the body to create images. The difference is that with a CT scan, the beam is thin and takes images at different angles. Layering all these angles together gives a 3-dimensional view of the area. Doctors can use certain tracers to give a better picture. Patients can take in tracers by injection, an enema or simply swallowing them in liquid form. People allergic to contrast dye, iodine or seafood should mention this in advance to the medical team so they can take precautions.
- The procedure takes between 10 and 30 minutes, depending on the area under scrutiny and whether doctors will use contrast dye. Using contrast dye takes longer because introducing it into the body can be a bit time consuming.
- Side effects may include a reaction to the contrast dye in form of wheezing, rash, shortness of breath, nausea, itching or swelling. They should clear up within an hour on their own but if they persist or are severe, patients should alert the medical team. Those with kidney problems could have a difficult time with the contrast dye but the doctor will give extra fluids in such situations to help expel the dye safely.
Since the procedure is more expensive than an x-ray, patients should check whether it is covered by their health insurance beforehand. Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers should also let the doctor know that they are.