Computed Tomography (CT)

Think of computed tomography (CT) as merging x-rays and a high-speed computer. The result is a detailed cross-section of a part of the body.

CT is painless and non-invasive, and shows the outlines of soft tissue and bone with highly detailed images. The test can detect some conditions that x-rays cannot because it reconstructs individual “slices” into three-dimensional, rotating images.

A CT scan can diagnose a wide variety of conditions and, in some instances, replace exploratory surgery and other, more invasive diagnostic procedures.

What a CT Scan Can Do

A CT scan has a diverse set of uses for health care professionals, including:

  • Detecting abnormalities in the brain and the eye. These may include tumors, blood clots and enlarged ventricles.
  • Offering information about a growth and related conditions, such as enlarged lymph nodes, pancreatic disease, back problems and lung cancer. A CT scan may indicate if a growth is solid or fluid-filled, and if an organ's size and shape are normal.
  • Performing guided biopsies of liver, lung, kidneys and bones. The CT scan can identify the location and type of tumor.
  • Shrinking and killing certain types of cancerous tumors. Called cryoablation, this procedure is less invasive than surgery and is typically used to treat inoperable tumors.

How a CT Scan Works

If you need a CT scan, you rest on a table while the CT scanner—a large doughnut-shaped machine—sends x-rays through the body. As the scanner rotates, it takes photos. The test is typically performed by a radiology technologist and takes 30 to 60 minutes. In some cases, dye is injected into the body to help the CT scan take better photos. Using a CT scan, a doctor can study all body parts and all organs, blood vessels, bones, and the spinal cord.

Learn more about computed tomography (CT)

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