Imaging tests go by many names. They are sometimes called imaging studies or by their type, such as X-rays, CT scans, MRIs or ultrasounds. Whatever type of imaging test you undergo, these tests help doctors look for cancer, determine its spread and evaluate whether your treatment is working. Of course, imaging tests also provide doctors with a view inside your body to find other diseases, broken bones, torn tissues or other injuries.
Imaging tests work by sending energy through your body. Energy types used in imaging include X-rays, sound waves, magnetic fields or radioactive particles. When these energies contact tissues, the tissues change the patterns of the energy to create an image.
Imaging tests provide important information for cancer treatment, including:
Although imaging tests provide a great deal of information for cancer treatment and related doctors, these tests are only part of your cancer care. You also need a complete medical history, physical exam, blood work and other lab tests.
Imaging tests often take place before treatment begins. These images form a baseline for tracking tumor response to treatment over time. Doctors compare these baseline studies with future images to determine whether your treatment is effective or ineffective.
Imaging tests play a very critical role in cancer treatment. But they have limitations, such as in showing whether a change is cancer or something else. These tests show large groups of cancer cells but cannot find cancer before it is visually detectable. In essence, you have millions of cancer cells in your body before a tumor is visible on an imaging study. This is why you still gain treatment for your cancer, even when there is no visible cancer on your imaging tests.
There are many different types of imaging scans available for gaining an inside view of your body. These include:
Which tests your doctor orders depends on several factors. These include:
When you have questions about your imaging tests or other aspects of your cancer treatment, ask your doctor or other members of your treatment team. Doctors will take the time to help you understand why you need the test, what it could find, pros and cons of the test and other options available to you.