By Mia James
Diagnostic imaging can play a big role throughout all phases of the cancer journey. These tests and scans are used to make pictures of areas inside the body, which can help doctors identify and locate disease, guide certain treatment modalities, monitor treatment response, and spot recurrences during follow-up. Timothy
McCay, DO, a radiologist at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) in Tulsa, Oklahoma, introduces us to some popular imaging tools and explains the roles that imaging can play in cancer treatment and beyond.
From Diagnosis to Recovery
For many patients an imaging test or scan is one of the first steps in treatment. “Typically, a patient who’s diagnosed with cancer goes to the doctor with a complaint, and then they’re referred to an imaging department to image that area of the body,” Dr. McCay explains.
Doctors may also incorporate imaging during treatment planning, as detailed information about a malignancy is necessary to determine appropriate therapy. For example, “Imaging may be utilized by a surgeon to determine if surgery would be the best option for a patient,” says Dr. McCay.
Following treatment, imaging can be used to determine if or to what extent therapy has been effective and to carefully monitor the patient for recurrence. “Imaging plays a very vital role in not only the diagnosis of cancer but also subsequent scans to determine if the cancer’s coming back, to what degree it’s coming back, or if it’s regressed,” Dr. McCay explains.
The following imaging tools are commonly used in cancer treatment. The type of imaging you undergo will bedetermined by such factors as the nature and the location of the cancer or
In the Spotlight: PET and MRI
According to Dr. McCay, two scans are particularly noteworthy: PET and MRI. These techniques, he says, are likely to become increasingly used in cancer treatment.
“The PET scan is a tool that’s becoming increasingly utilized,” says Dr. McCay, explaining that because PET scans can measure the glucose metabolism of cells, which is higher in cancerous tissues, they are particularly useful in showing a cancer’s stage and whether it has recurred or regressed.
Dr. McCay also sees an expanding role for MRI in cancer treatment. For example, “We’ve learned that MRI has a higher resolution for liver lesions than CT does,” he says, which allows for earlier detection of disease that has spread to the liver. Dr. McCay also explains that MRI (as well as ultrasound) doesn’t emit radiation as do CT scans and X-rays. “The more we can use MRI and ultrasound, the overall total dose of radiation to the patient is diminished.”
Three Questions to Ask Your Doctor about Imaging
As with much of the cancer journey, educating yourself about imaging can help you make appropriate decisions and be more comfortable with the process. The following questions, says Dr. McCay, can help you prepare for scans and tests.
Make Imaging Work for You
Your role in your treatment plan continues once you’ve undergone the scans, says Dr. McCay. He suggests that you stay proactive and involved by requesting scan results in a reasonable amount of time. “Remember that you’re the consumer,” he says.
After all, imaging is part of the treatment process, and like therapies and procedures, they’re done to help you get the best outcome possible. By understanding the studies you’ll undergo and their purpose, and by making sure you get results in a timely manner, you’re doing your part to ensure effective treatment.
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