The Role of Medical Imaging in Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment
Despite the surge of coronavirus (COVID-19), the second most common killer of Americans remains to be cancer. Each year, more than 1.8 million Americans are diagnosed with cancer and approximately 600,000 will die. With a wide range of cancers and prognoses, the accurate diagnosis and effective treatment of cancer are vital to surviving. For many patients, their cancer journey begins with a diagnostic imaging scan that detects an abnormality. Join us in today’s post as we discuss medical imaging’s role in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and what Touchstone Imaging is doing to promote the best outcomes for patients.
How is cancer diagnosed?
There is no single definitive test for cancer, just like there is no single symptom that would warn of cancer. A cancer diagnosis requires a complete evaluation and examination of a patient, including a thorough history, blood sampling, and, in some cases, a tissue biopsy or routine screening imaging — colonoscopy, mammogram, etc. Some cancer screening is routine, such as breast and testicle exams, colonoscopy, and Pap Smear, whereas other cancers are screened for if a patient presents with high risk or symptoms of particular cancers.
The Role of Medical Imaging in Cancer
Various medical imaging modalities can be used in a variety of ways to distinguish between malignant and benign tumors, detect masses, detect cancers, determine whether cancer has spread (metastasize), assess the effectiveness of cancer treatment interventions, and stage or re-stage cancer. In some cases, medical imaging will be used to help guide other cancer detection procedures.
Let’s explore some of the medical imaging modalities and their role in cancer detection and treatment.
Screening mammography is diagnostic mammograms that are performed without reason or cause, simply as a routine preventative service. A mammogram is a specialized x-ray that compresses the dense breast tissue to detect masses or lumps. While a mammogram can’t definitively diagnose cancer, it can detect changes that can indicate that more testing should be done. Mammograms can detect lumps up to two years before a manual self-breast exam. It is recommended that women should begin getting routine breast exams by age 45 or two years before a direct relative was diagnosed with breast cancer.
At Touchstone Imaging, a good majority of our locations offer mammography, with some locations providing 3D mammogram technology. The best part is, we are in-network for most major medical insurance providers and we don’t require an order for a screening mammogram (but, we do require a primary care provider to send the results to).
X-ray is the most basic and simplistic radiology modality. X-rays use invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of bones, organs, and other structures. X-ray options include standard x-ray, barium enema, fluoroscopy, and intravenous pyelogram modalities. X-rays can be useful at illuminating masses or detecting abnormalities in the lungs or bones. X-ray technology can detect cancers of the lung, stomach, bladder, and myeloma.
Every Touchstone Imaging location offers x-ray as a basic service.
Computed tomography (CT) scans use a combination of x-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images of the body. A CT scan can highlight functional areas of the body and can provide a more complete picture of the body than standard x-rays can. CT scans can detect tumors and offer a more detailed view of internal organs and tissues, which can be useful in differentiating masses and directing metastasis. When contrast dye is used, a CT scan can highlight which blood vessels feed the tumor and which adjacent organs are affected. CT scans can be used to guide a biopsy, ablation treatment for a tumor, or virtual endoscopy (scope-less bronchoscopy or colonoscopy). CT scans can be used to detect cancer of the pancreas, liver, lung, esophagus, stomach, brain, ovary, colorectal, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, kidney, bladder, and prostate.
CT scans are offered at many Touchstone Imaging centers and are one of our most popular services. CT scans are very common and performed on nearly every patient in whom cancer is suspected.
A positron emission tomography (PET) scan uses a small amount of radioactive substance attached to sugar (radionuclide) to highlight metabolism processes. If there is a tumor, these radioactive cells tend to collect inside it within an hour or so, letting the radiologist get a clear image of the tumors. PET scans are useful in differentiating between malignant and benign tumors, staging cancer, and detecting metastasis. A PET scan is generally conducted at the same time as a CT scan to offer the best view of your body’s organs and internal structures. PET scans can be used to detect cancer of: lung, colorectal, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and prostate cancer.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses radio waves, a large magnetic field, and computer technology to capture detailed 3D images of the body structures. The MRI is able to distinguish soft tissues better than an MRI and can identify small changes in tissues and detect blood flow. MRI is useful for detecting tumors, diagnosing and staging cancer, evaluating infections, and assessing metastasis or effectiveness of treatment interventions. MRI options include standard, Highfield, and open MRI with or without contrast, using additional computer technology to detect cancer, differentiate cells, evaluate metastasis, assess the effectiveness of treatment, and more. MRI is particularly useful for looking at the heart, brain, liver, pancreas, reproductive organs, and other soft tissues. MRI can be used to detect cancer of the prostate, pancreas, liver, esophagus, brain, myeloma, colorectal, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, kidney, bladder, and breast.
Touchstone Imaging offers many forms of MRI modalities and machine options at most of our locations to accommodate all of our patients. We are proud to offer 1.5 and 3-tesla standard, Highfield, and open MRI as well as breast and NeuroQuant® technologies to optimize MRI capabilities to meet your needs.
Ultrasound, or sonography, uses high-energy sound waves to create an image of blood vessels, tissues, and organs within the body. Ultrasound is often used for identifying tumors, guiding biopsies, and treating tumors. Ultrasounds can help differentiate masses as fluid-filled cysts or solid masses in the abdomen, breast, liver, and kidneys. Ultrasound technology can be used externally or internally to probe the rectum, vagina, or esophagus. Ultrasounds are used in the detection of cancers of the pancreas, liver, ovary, colorectal, kidney, bladder, breast, and prostate.
At Touchstone Imaging, nearly every location offers ultrasound technology in 2D and some locations offer 3D ultrasound.
Other forms of medical imaging that may be used to detect or take a closer look at suspected cancer include bone scans and nuclear medicine scans.
How Touchstone Imaging is Helping
To learn more about our services and how they help with the detection and treatment of cancer, visit our other posts on the subject.
Throughout your cancer journey, you may have many different diagnostic imaging scans completed, and Touchstone Imaging is here to support you from the first screening mammogram to the final MRI to confirm remission, and everything in between. To learn more about the services we offer or to find a location near you, connect with us online today.