Steve Stevens, MD, Chairman of the Department of Radiology with University of Utah Health care breaks it down in this Studio 5 Health Watch.
Imaging Provides Answers to Important Medical Questions
• Medical imaging allows physicians to get detailed information about what is happening inside a patient’s body. This helps a physician diagnosis disease.
• There are several different types of medical imaging techniques such as CT scans, MRI scans, X-ray, and Ultrasound. Each type of scan provides different information.
• A healthcare provider will decide which scan to order based on the condition of the patient and the information needed.
CT imaging Facts
• A CT scanner uses x-ray equipment and computer processing to produce cross-sectional images of the inside of the body.
• CT scans are very fast – the average CT scan takes less than 5 minutes to perform.
• CT scans do use x-rays.
How is a CT scan different from an x-ray?
• A conventional x-ray uses small doses of ionizing radiation to create a 2-D image of the inside of a patient
• X-ray equipment is widely available, you may have had an x-ray in your doctor’s office.
• A CT scan takes a series of x-rays (slices) in a spiral around the patient, a computer compiles the images, (like slices of bread are stacked in a loaf) and forms a 3-D image of the inside of the patient.
• Unlike conventional x-rays, CT scanning provides very detailed images of many types of tissue as well as the lungs, bones, and blood vessels.
• A CT scanner is a very specialized piece of equipment. Usually CT scanners are found in hospitals or in specialized imaging centers.
When might a person need a CT scan?
• CT scans are commonly ordered by healthcare providers in:
Emergency situations: CT scans are very fast
Trauma/Accidents: CT scans can quickly image large areas of the body
Cancer: CT scans are often used to find/diagnose cancer. CT scans are also commonly used for cancer follow-up: is the cancer larger? has it spread?
• CT scans may be ordered by your provider for the evaluation and management of other conditions such as headaches, problems breathing, kidney stones, stomach/abdominal pain.
How much ionizing radiation would I receive if I had a CT scan?
• Ionizing radiation is everywhere – we call this background radiation
• We can compare the amount of radiation you receive from a CT scan to the amount of background radiation you would experience in a year
• For example, a typical CT exam is equal to approximately 2 years of natural background radiation. But, every exam is different – a CT scan of the sinuses in your head, is equal to about 2 months of background radiation
• Newer imaging equipment is allowing us to get better images with fewer x-rays
• At U of U Health Care, we have a full-time medical physicist, who works with our medical director to ensure we use the lowest amount of radiation for each patient
• Interesting points:
o People living at altitude receive more background radiation than those living at sea level
o No x-rays/radiation remain in your body after the CT exam is over
Is a CT exam safe?
• Recent published articles have raised questions about the benefits of increased CT use.
• In most cases, the information gained from the CT scan will far outweigh the potential risks from x-ray exposure.
• Radiologists and imaging technologists are trained to use the minimum amount of radiation necessary to obtain the needed results. This is often referred to as ALARA or ‘as low as reasonably achievable’.
What can you do as a patient?
Patients should keep a record of their X-ray history and before undergoing a scan, should ask their physician:
• Why do I need this exam?
• How will having this exam improve my health care?
• Are there alternatives that do not use radiation which are equally as good?
*Peter Jenkins, MS, CHP, Medical Physicist, Department of Radiology, Chairman, Utah Radiation Control Board
University of Utah Health Care’s Medical Imaging Program
University of Utah Health Care employs a full time medical physicist* who works alongside the medical director and radiologists to ensure the CT scanners are operating safely. The department has a robust quality control program in place to continually update the safety standards and ensure the safety guidelines are being followed. Researchers at the University of Utah Department of Radiology are constantly improving imaging technology; achieving better images with less radiation. Radiologists at the University of Utah have advanced fellowship training, ensuring they remain current on the latest imaging techniques. Each patient is special at University of Utah Health Care. The imaging protocol is customized for every patient; ensuring the best and safest imaging for each individual.