Schools Training

The Pros and Cons of CT and CAT Scans

13 AUG 2012
Career Path : Healthcare

For a long time, we have used X-Ray technology to get a better glimpse inside the body. This has helped us not only get a better understanding of our biology, but to diagnose and further treat cancer and various other internal diseases, as well to pinpoint the location and severity of physical damage mostly related to bone fracture. There was one simple short-coming with this old method: the images produced by traditional X-Rays were two-dimensional, and the physical world, including the body, is three-dimensional. Clearly, any resulting images that lacked this third dimension would limit our complete view of the internal body.


Then along came X-Ray technology that made use of tomography. In simple terms, tomography, or a tomograph machine creates images by cross-scanning a three-dimensional object and producing image sections, which would later be reassembled to form a three-dimensional representation of the scanned object. This technology has become widely used in many areas of research industry aside from radiology, for example in fields as diverse as archaeology, oceanography and astrophysics.


Today we are familiar with the process of CT scans and CAT scans. We’ve seen it in hospitals and often on television and in movies. It looks like the long, white, sterile bed that passes the patient through the opening of a large machine with a circular aperture, practically out of a science fiction film possibly dealing with teleportation. Once the scan takes the sectional images, or slices, a certain meshing process known as digital geometric processing generates a three-dimensional image of the inside of the patient. Learning to read and understand these images is a vital part of healthcare training in radiation sciences.


Since computed tomography uses X-Rays and literally passes the human body through this high-powered radiation machine, most people may have their fears that it can include a risk of cancer. This is not entirely unfounded, but the actual amounts of documented cases of cancer from CT and CAT scanners are extremely low. Nevertheless, the proper health and technology background is necessary to understand all of the various risks of this procedure, before simply endorsing its benefits.


Exposure to radiation is a risk, but for those who already have cancer, the chances of being able to locate and treat the cancer with a CT scan far outweigh the chances of the cancer increasing. Other negative side-effects are that the patient can have a negative or even allergic reaction from the iodine, which is used as a contrast material which is distributed throughout the body for the process of imaging. The iodine, or other contrast agents, can sometimes also produce kidney problems, since the kidneys are used to flush out the iodine.


Overall, the benefits certainly do outweigh the risks. Computed tomographic scans are a relatively quick and painless procedure, and while it is not a cure or treatment in itself, it greatly facilitates the diagnostic process. This is important because CT and CAT scans are generally used to detect severe and life-threatening illnesses, which no doubt trump the discomfort or allergic reactions caused by the contrast agents. In these cases, time is a crucial factor, and any technology which buys us more time is worth the drawbacks.


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