Early in 2017, a British study at University College London indicated that using MRIs during the early stages of prostate cancer diagnosis could increase accuracy and reduce the number of biopsies needed. While this study shines a spotlight on MRIs, it doesn't mean the medical world is quite ready to ditch other diagnostic techniques just yet. For those who are facing the prospect of a prostate cancer diagnosis, understanding the difference between CT scans and MRIs is important.
Both CT Scans and MRIs can play a role in the diagnostic process
CT scans and MRIs take different approaches to imaging what medical professionals cannot see with their eyes alone. While a CT scan uses x-rays to produce virtual slices of a person's anatomy, an MRI machine creates a magnetic field that relies upon the presence of fluid within a person's tissues to produce pictures. When used alongside a dye, CT scans can track lymph node spread, making it an essential staging tool. As MRIs provide an in-depth look at soft tissues, they're great for seeing if cancer is present in nearby structures. Neither test is used early in the diagnostic process, and both rely on other tests for accurate results.
Which scan is used depends on several factors
Some people may struggle to benefit from an MRI, such as those with metal implants throughout their body, people who are reliant on pacemakers, and those who are claustrophobic. Unlike CT scanners, MRIs encapsulate the patient in a small space, can take a long time to complete, and rely on remaining quite still while inside. As such, those who suffer from claustrophobia may struggle to produce the best image possible.
Both come with perks and pitfalls
X-ray technology is constantly advancing, which means CT scanners now produce better images with lower doses of radiation. They don't require patients to squeeze into small spaces, and they return results faster. However, they don't provide as much detail as an MRI in some soft tissues and certain individuals may experience a reaction to the dye used to image them. Although MRIs are incredibly detailed and rarely induce allergic reactions as far as associated dyes are concerned, they're time-consuming and rely on the patient staying still, just like the older cameras from days gone by.
While it's certainly true that MRIs may prevent unnecessary biopsies and can assist in diagnosing cancer staging, they're not suitable for all patients. Although a CT scan doesn't offer as much soft tissue detail, it's an essential and simple tool in tracking lymph node spread in prostate cancer. Both have their place on the diagnostic and treatment journey, though, making them useful medical tools.
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