Imaging tests are useful in many diagnostic situations, including assessing damage from an injury, or the potential onset of disease. Participating in regular screening exams can also help determine your health risk for certain cancers, and therefore increase survival rates.
Between 1996 and 2010, the use of diagnostic CT scans alone tripled, which has given us an even clearer picture of imaging’s benefits. To keep up with this positive trend, we’re here to help you understand what imaging exams you may need regularly to take optimal care of your health and reduce any risk.
Bone density imaging (often called DEXA) measures your bone’s strength by calculating the mineral content of your skeleton. These tests monitor any bone loss as you age, and can determine whether you have osteoporosis — a disorder that causes your bones to weaken or become prone to breakage. Continued bone density tests can also help doctors monitor your osteoporosis treatment, if you are diagnosed with the condition.
Your doctor may suggest a regular bone density test if you:
- Are a woman over the age of 65 or a man over the age of 70.
- Have a family member with osteoporosis.
- Have previously broken a bone.
- Are on medications that can weaken your bones such as steroid prednisone or cancer drugs.
- Have conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, diabetes, liver disease, or kidney disease.
Mammograms are conducted with an x-ray machine that flattens the breast and takes an x-ray image, allowing your doctor to gain a clear image of the tissue inside, and any abnormalities. Mammograms are the best way to gain an early diagnosis of breast cancer and receive early treatment — which means the best chance of survival.
This imaging also helps doctors detect changes in the breast such as calcium deposits, benign masses, or any non-cancerous asymmetry. Talk to your doctor about scheduling regular mammograms if you are a woman over the age of 40, or perhaps even earlier if you have a family history of breast cancer.
CT Lung Screening
A low-dose CT scan (LDCT) is a procedure that creates a series of detailed images from inside the body, using a low-dose x-ray machine, and a computer to synthesize the resulting images. According to the American Lung Association, “Lung cancer screening with LDCT has been shown to reduce the risk of dying from lung cancer,” as it identifies lung cancer in the earlier, more curable stages. Lung cancer is the third most common type of cancer in the United States, outside of skin cancer, and is the leading cause of cancer death in both women and men.
The CDC recommends LDCT for smokers or former smokers between 50 and 80 years old, with a 20 pack-year (or more) smoking history, and who are currently smoking or who have quit in the last 15 years.
CT Cardiac Scoring
Using technology similar to LDCT, cardiac computed tomography (CT) for Calcium Scoring uses designated x-ray equipment to generate pictures of your coronary arteries. This helps to determine whether they are blocked or narrowed by plaque buildup, which may indicate coronary artery disease (CAD). The information obtained can help evaluate whether you are at increased risk for heart attack.
This specialized imaging test may not be right for everyone, however, as Dr. Ron Blankstein, a cardiovascular imaging specialist and preventive cardiologist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital asserts. “A calcium scan is very useful if there’s uncertainty about a person’s risk of heart disease or the need for statins,” he says, but it is not appropriate for those who already have coronary artery disease, or anyone with a low risk of heart disease. You and your doctor should talk closely together about whether CT cardiac scoring will be right for you.
Regularly Visit Your Doctor
Whether it’s for CT cardiac scoring or any other imaging exam, regular check-ups and discussions with your doctor can help you decide what’s needed, and when. An individual CT or MRI scan may also be ordered to diagnose a chronic symptom, or if further tests are needed after your regular imaging.
If you are concerned about excessive radiation exposure from frequent imaging, your doctor can also help define what safe exposure entails. While long-lasting exposure to radiation can potentially increase some health issues, there is a very small risk in the low dosage from regular imaging.
Outpatient Imaging Culpeper is a full-service imaging center that will provide you with a comfortable and informative imaging experience so that you can be confident in taking care of your health! Visit us online to schedule an appointment or call us at (540) 321-3190.