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A computed tomography (CT) scan of the chest area looks for abnormalities that may be causing a long-term cough, shortness of breath or chest pain, especially when accompanied by a fever. This diagnostic medical imaging test may detect lung cancer in the early stages, in which the patient has a greater chance of remission.

What Is a Chest CT Scan?

Relatively quick, noninvasive and virtually painless, a CT scan is similar to traditional X-ray. However, the procedure differs in a few areas:

  • A scan generates multiple cross-sectional images that offer a more comprehensive look into the body. With certain technology, even three-dimensional imaging is possible. Scans can be done at multiple angles and each pass takes seconds.
  • CT scans deliver a high-level of accuracy compared to traditional X-rays, providing a detailed look into the body’s internal organs, blood vessels and soft tissue.

Compared to other imaging procedures, a lower amount of radiation is used for a chest CT scan, based on the software, patient size and the condition being assessed. A low-dose scan lowers radiation by as much as 65 percent without compromising image quality, is helpful for identifying acquired and congenital lung abnormalities, and assists in diagnosing pneumonia, interstitial lung disease or a tumor.

The round scanner is large enough to fit an adult and has a smaller ring where the X-ray tube and X-ray detectors are located opposite each other. During the scan, the patient lies on a table that passes through this area. As the procedure starts, the X-ray beams and detectors rotate around you to calculate the amount of radiation your body takes in.

As this is going on, a technologist in a separate room observes the procedure from a computer monitor and guides you through each step. All images from the scan are displayed on the monitor and after the procedure is complete, they’ll be saved in electronic form for further use.

Who Should Have This Procedure?

A CT scan may be requested when conventional X-rays show an abnormality in the chest area. Results may determine if a patient has:

  • Pneumonia
  • Tuberculosis
  • Tumors, malignant or benign
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Inflammation of the pleura
  • Interstitial or chronic lung disease
  • Congenital abnormalities

This procedure can identify bleeding, be done on a patient with an implanted device and may help guide other minimally invasive procedures. A chest CT scan may assist with:

  • Determining if treatment is improving tumors in this area
  • Planning radiation therapy
  • Assessing any injuries to the chest area, whether to the heart, blood vessels, spine or ribs
  • Examining abnormalities found in fetal ultrasound examinations
  • Screening heavy smokers with no symptoms
  • Examining blood vessels in the chest area as an angiogram is performed

What You Can Expect

While the scan itself takes roughly 30 seconds, the complete procedure with preparation usually runs 30 minutes. Prior to the procedure, inform your doctor:

  • If you are pregnant
  • Of any medical conditions, including asthma, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease or thyroid issues
  • About any medications you are taking
  • About any allergies you may have, including to the contrast material

On the day of the procedure, leave anything metal at home, including jewelry, dentures, eyeglasses, hearing aids, piercings and bras with underwire.

As the exam begins, the technologist will have you lie flat on your back on the table. If the radiologist plans to use a contrast material, this will be injected before the scan begins. From here, the table moves through the scanner and adjusts until it reaches its ideal position. During the scan, the table will move slowly through the tunnel and you may be asked to hold your breath to avoid motion in the images. Before the exam is fully complete, the technologist will determine if the image quality is sufficient.
 
Does a chest computed tomography scan sound like the right procedure for you? Contact us to make an appointment today.