Medical Imaging

What Medical Imaging is Most Commonly Used for Cancer?

Cancer treatment requires the use of several different types of medical images to be able to get the best picture of what’s happening inside the body. The following types of medical imaging are often used for Optim Oncology patients in the Oklahoma City area. They can tell the oncologist where the cancer is, if it has spread, or if it has shrunk as a result of the cancer treatment working.

The most common imaging methods include:

  • Computed Tomography (CT) - A procedure that uses a computer linked to an x-ray machine to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. The pictures are taken from different angles and are used to create 3-dimensional (3-D) views of tissues and organs. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the tissues and organs show up more clearly.

    A CT scan may be used to help diagnose disease, plan treatment, or find out how well treatment is working. It may also be called CAT scan, computed tomography scan, computerized axial tomography scan, and computerized tomography.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) - A procedure in which radio waves and a powerful magnet linked to a computer are used to create detailed pictures of areas inside the body. These pictures can show the difference between normal and diseased tissue. MRI makes better images of organs and soft tissue than other scanning techniques, such as computed tomography (CT) or x-ray.

    MRI is especially useful for imaging the brain, the spine, the soft tissue of joints, and the inside of bones. It may also be called magnetic resonance imaging, NMRI, and nuclear magnetic resonance imaging.
  • Positron Emission Tomography (PET) - A PET scan is a nuclear imaging technique that creates detailed, computerized pictures of organs and tissues inside the body. A PET scan is different from a CT or MRI. A PET scan shows how the body is functioning by imaging abnormal metabolic activity or highly active cells as they react to sugar. It works best with specific types of cancer and your oncologist will recommend it if s/he feels it would be beneficial.

    Patients are given an injection of a small amount of radioactive glucose (sugar). After a short period of time has passed a scanner is used to make detailed, computerized pictures of areas inside the body where the glucose is especially active. These areas show up brighter on the scan and tells the doctor that there is likely cancer in that area. This is because cancer cells tend to use sugar for energy at a higher rate than normal cells which causes the sugar to be attracted to the cancerous cells. 

What are These Tests Used For?

Medical images are used to treat cancer in several ways, including:

  • Staging - The imaging studies can tell our physicians the stage of the cancer, and determining the cancer’s stage tells us if and how far the cancer has spread.
  • Treatment monitoring - Imaging scans are used to plan and monitor cancer treatments. Not only does medical imaging show oncologists where radiation treatment should be focused, it is also used to show then if a tumor has shrunk, grown, or stayed the same since treatment began. Knowing this information helps determine how well the treatment is working.
  • Restaging - Just as medical imaging can show the shape and size of a tumor, it can show if a person is still free of cancer or if the cancer has recurred, or come back.

If you are claustrophobic (small, enclosed spaces are a problem) please inform your physician before your appointment for any of these imaging procedures.