Computed tomography (CT) imaging, also referred to as a computed axial tomography (CAT) scan, involves the use of rotating x-ray equipment, combined with a digital computer, to obtain images of the body. Using CT imaging, cross sectional images of body organs and tissues can be produced. Though there are many other imaging techniques, this form has the unique ability to offer clear images of different types of tissue. It can provide views of soft tissue, bone, muscle, and blood vessels, without sacrificing clarity. Other imaging techniques are much more limited in the types of images they can provide.
To understand the difference between CT imaging and other techniques, consider an x-ray of the head. Using basic x-ray techniques, the bone structures of the skull can be viewed. With magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), blood vessels and soft tissue can be viewed, but clear, detailed images of bony structures cannot be obtained. On the other hand, x-ray angiography can provide a look at the blood vessels of the head, but not soft tissue. A CT of the head can provide clear images not only of soft tissue, but also of bones and blood vessels.
CT imaging is commonly used for diagnostic purposes. In fact, it is a chief imaging method used in diagnosing a variety of cancers, including those affecting the lungs, pancreas, and liver. Using this type of imaging, not only can medical professionals confirm that tumors exist, but they can also pinpoint their locations, accurately measure the size of tumors, and determine whether or not they’ve spread to neighboring tissues.
In addition to the diagnosis of certain cancers, a CT can be used for planning and administering radiation cancer treatments, as well as for planning certain types of surgeries. It is useful for guiding biopsies and a range of other procedures categorized as minimally invasive. Thanks to its ability to provide clear images of bone, muscle, and blood vessels, it is a valuable tool for the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal disorders and injuries. It is often used to measure bone mineral density and to detect injuries to internal organs. A CT scan is even used for the diagnosis and treatment of certain vascular diseases that, undetected and untreated, have the potential to cause renal failure, stroke, or death.
CT imaging itself is pain-free, but some individuals may experience discomfort because they are required to lie still for a period of time. The procedure is typically performed by a well-trained CT technologist.