Computerized Tomography (CT) scanners help radiologists diagnose several minor and severe illnesses and injuries in people of all ages. Here are some frequently asked questions about CT scans:

How do CT scans work?

“CT scans use x-ray technology to produce detailed, cross-sectional photos of your internal organs and soft tissues,” says Roberto Soto, MD, a radiologist with Adventist HealthCare Imaging. Once the scan is over, a radiologist will review your images and send the results to your physician who will develop a treatment plan for you. “Sometimes your physician will request that you take contrast, a solution that highlights certain areas of the body and allows the radiologist to better analyze your tissues, organs and blood vessels,” says Dr. Soto.

Why would a physician recommend a CT scan?

CT scans help locate tumors, broken bones, blood clots and internal bleeding. They are also effective at helping physicians diagnose signs of heart disease, appendicitis and cancers. “These scanners are often more precise than others in locating the size and location of tumors and other masses,” Dr. Soto says. “Radiologists even use CT scans as guides during biopsies on these masses and during cancer treatment procedures.”

Are CT scans safe?

For most people, CT scans are generally safe to use in moderation. Dr. Soto says it’s important to remember that CT scans do use radiation. “Any exposure to X-rays – including those from CT scans – slightly increases your long-term risk of developing cancer. These scans should only be used when indicated,” says Dr. Soto. “However, in cases where CT scans are needed to make a diagnosis of an illness or injury, the benefits of getting a CT scan far outweigh the small risks associated with the scan.”Radiation is of special concern to unborn babies. Always let your technologist know if you are pregnant before taking a CT scan or any other imaging test.

Are CT scans uncomfortable?

During a CT exam, a technologist will ask you to remove all metal from your body and assist you to an exam table. If your physician requested oral or IV contrast for your scan, you can drink the solution provided beforehand or the technologist will use a small needle to inject the contrast media into your body. “After you’re laying down on the CT table, the scanner will move you in and out of a donut-shaped opening,” says William Lauritzen, a CT technologist with Adventist HealthCare Imaging. “The scan will usually last between 10 and 30 minutes.”

Sources: U.S. National Library of MedicineNational Institutes of HealthNational Cancer InstituteAmerican Cancer Society

Adventist HealthCare Imaging offers quality imaging services such as mammography, MRI, ultrasound and SPECT/CT at several Montgomery County locations.