You’ve seen or heard these acronyms before – CT or CAT Scan, MRI and PET. These are all common terms for medical scans that have become the gold standard for detecting hidden problems in the body. Although most people are familiar with the use of basic x-ray technology in dentistry or medical settings, a wider range of advanced medical scans are being used with increased frequency as diagnostic detectives.
Many medical scans can identify health problems or changes that might not otherwise be detectable. Some scan images are quite detailed, and are therefore a helpful tool in uncovering underlying causes of symptoms, or tracking the recovery progress after a patient’s treatment for disease. When are scans necessary, and how do the different types of scans detect health issues that aren’t otherwise discernible?
When Scans Are Necessary
While some doctors recommend medical scans as part of a general screening for patients who are healthy, most doctors only recommend them as a secondary diagnostic measure to detect problems. For example, if preliminary medical tests indicate the presence of disease, your doctor may refer you for a scan before making a final diagnosis. If you have already been treated for a health problem such as cancer or tumor removal, a scan can help reveal if the disease has been completely eradicated or if there is a recurrence.
Scans: How they Work
Medical scans use a variety of materials and equipment to provide images of the interior of your body. Here is a brief overview of scans and how they work:
CT or CAT – Short for computed tomography or computed axial tomography, a CT scan is a radiological test that provides sectional images of different body areas (brain, lungs, heart, etc.) to reveal changes or abnormalities, such as cancers or tumors.
MRI – Unlike CT, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) does not use ionizing radiation. MRI uses magnetization with radio frequency to construct a 2D or 3D scanned image that shows high contrast between different soft tissues in your body.
PET – Positron emission tomography (PET) tracks the functional processes at work in the body, revealing any areas that have higher-than-normal activity of molecules, such as cancer molecules. Abnormal activity is revealed via concentrations of brightly colored areas.
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