CT Scans Pose Minimum Radiation Risk
Patients scheduled to undergo a CT scan often worry about radiation exposure, but those fears are usually unfounded, according to Rocky Saenz, DO, the vice-chairman of Botsford Hospital’s radiology department in Farmington Hills, Michigan.
That’s because today’s CT scanners require less radiation and doctors use the lowest possible dose. “The radiation level is safe if you get only a few CT scans a year,” he says.
DOs, or osteopathic physicians, are trained to consider lifestyle and environmental factors as they partner to help you get healthy and stay well. Below, Dr. Saenz explains how a CT scan can provide your doctor with a more detailed picture of your overall health.
Why get a CT scan?
CT scans can be used to:
- Examine all parts of the body.
- Locate tumors.
- Detect diseases such as cancer and heart disease.
“A CT scan helps provide a more exact diagnosis. If an irregularity shows up on a chest X-ray, a CT scan will help give your doctor a clearer picture what it could be,” Dr. Saenz says.
Preparing for a scan
CT scans are performed in a hospital or an outpatient facility. After signing in, you may be asked to change into a gown depending on what part of the body will be examined. You will also be asked to provide a brief medical history. The radiologist uses this information, in addition to the medical history provided by your physician, to gain a better understanding of what to look for on the scans.
Before the test, a special dye called contrast material might be administered to highlight areas of your body being examined, especially if a scan will be performed on an internal organ. Typically, the contrast is inserted into a vein through an IV.
If your colon or intestines will be examined, you will drink an oral contrast two hours before the test, prior to getting an IV. Unlike the prep solution for a colonoscopy, which cleans out the colon, extra trips to the bathroom will not be necessary as oral contrast for a CT scan only helps the medical team visualize the intestines, Dr. Saenz says.
Your primary care physician will determine what type of contrast is needed for a gastrointestinal scan.
Into the “donut”
The CT scanner is shaped like a large donut or bagel. You will lie down on a motorized table that slides into a tunnel opening. Unlike an MRI, the tunnel is not enclosed and only the part of your body being examined goes into the machine.
The detectors and tube move around you. While an X-ray captures only one image, a CT scanner takes multiple images and creates cross-sectional images, or slices, of an area at once.
“Most modern scanners have updated equipment that makes the process go pretty fast, usually lasting about a minute,” Dr. Saenz says.
Getting your results
A radiologist receives the image along with the test prescription from your physician detailing what the radiologist should be looking for. After examining the images, the radiologist produces a formal report that is sent to your physician.
If an abnormality is found on the CT scan, your physician may recommend an MRI for further analysis.