- CAT scan
- computed axial tomography
- computed tomography imaging.
Computed tomography (CT) is a computer-aided x-ray technique. X-rays consist of electromagnetic waves of energy. They penetrate the body to varying extents depending upon the density of the structures being viewed. The result is black and white images of interior portions of the body. A CT scan produces detailed cross-sectional views of the body, similar to slices of bread.
Who is a candidate for the test?
CT scans are performed to evaluate:
- abnormalities that showed up on other other types of x-rays
- tumors that are suspected to represent cancer. CT scans can determine how much some cancers have spread or metastasized and can monitor the effectivness of treatment.
- bony abnormalities
- brain abnormalities
- abdominal symptoms. Use of CT scans in these cases can often prevent exploratory surgery.
- suspicious chest abnormalities
CT scans are also used to guide needles when taking tissue samples. In addition, the technique is useful in gauging a person's recovery after an operation. CT scans can also be used to guide instruments for surgery deep in the brain.
How is the test performed?
A person having a CT scan will need to undress and put on an exam gown. Next, the person will lie on a narrow table. The table will slide through a machine called a gantry, that looks like a donut. While in the gantry, an x-ray tube travels around the individual creating computer-generated x-ray images.
Some types of exams require the individual to receive an intravenous injection of iodinated contrast, which is a dye that makes some tissues show up better. Scans of the intestines sometimes call for the person to drink diluted iodinated contrast solution prior to the exam. After the exam, the technologist will view the pictures. If they are adequate, the person is free to leave.
What is involved in preparation for the test?
A person having the test will be asked to refrain from eating or drinking for 4 hours before the scan. All jewelry and metal objects that may interfere with the exam need to be removed beforehand, as well.
Women will be asked if they are pregnant. If so, the test must not be done. Individuals should check with their healthcare professional or hospital x-ray department to see if any other preparation is needed.
What do the test results mean?
A CT scan provides a direct image of soft tissue structures such as the, liver, lung, spleen, pancreas, lymph nodes and fatty tissues. CT is also helpful for identifying and tracking large abnormalities such as tumors.
CT of the head can be used to evaluate strokes, tumors, bleeding and injuries. It can also be used to examine most brain structures. CT performs well in providing images of bony structures including the spine, facial bones, sinuses and skull. It also works well in viewing long bones for fractures, tumors or infection.