ASK THE EXPERT: Dr. Jennifer Kujak on Diagnostic Radiology
If you are reading this article, you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer. I, too, have been personally affected by cancer. Recently, my mother-in-law, Sally, passed from metastatic melanoma.
While being diagnosed with cancer is life-changing and frightening, there are many exciting new imaging tests and treatments available that detect cancer earlier, improve cancer prognosis, and allow people to live longer and healthier. I have witnessed many victories in cancer treatment, so have hope! In the next few paragraphs, I will explain what a radiologist does, what cancer imaging tests are available, and what to expect. I hope by writing this brief article, it helps you and your loved ones on your journey.
A radiologist is a doctor who specializes in interpreting imaging studies. Radiologists are “behind the scenes” detectives, who help your doctor determine whether you have cancer, how far the cancer has spread and if treatment is working.
Imaging tests are used to look inside of your body. These tests are used for cancer screening, diagnosing cancer, and treatment response. Different tests, such as radiographs, ultrasound, CT, MRI and PET/CT are available.
Radiographs (X-rays) use x-rays to create a picture and use minimal radiation. This exam is often used to look for pneumonia, fractures, and bone lesions. These studies are fast, cheap and can occasionally detect cancer. You do not have to prepare for the exam.
Ultrasound studies use sound waves to look inside your body with no radiation. This exam is often used for pregnancy, gallstones, certain cancers (thyroid cancer), and biopsies. You may have to fast for 4-6 hours.
Computed tomography (CT/CAT scan) is a large “donut-hole” machine that uses radiation to create images and is quick. This test is used for cancer screening, to determine cancer spread, and treatment response. Contrast dye is sometimes used. You may have to fast for 4-6 hours.
MRI studies use a strong magnet to create images, look at many types of cancer, and take 25-45 minutes. You lie on a flat table that slides into the tube. Contrast dye is sometimes used. You may have to fast for 4-6 hours.
PET/CT studies use radioactive sugar to create images and take 2-3 hours. If cancer is present, the tumor may show up as a “hot spot”. This study is often used to detect cancer, determine cancer spread and treatment response. You will have to fast for 4-6 hours.
I hope the above paragraphs have helped “demystify” cancer imaging. I wish you good health and a good life!
Jennifer Kujak, M.D., M.S.
Vice President Rolling Oaks Radiology