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Medical Imaging Technology in Mesothelioma Diagnosis

Medical imaging technology is a relatively new field of medical diagnostics, having only become a mainstream specialty in the last 25 years. Medical imaging tests are commonly administered at hospitals or medical imaging centers, and are performed as out patient procedures. These tests have become so prevalent that every year there are over 700 million medical imaging procedures performed worldwide. Two of the most common medical imaging tests are CT (computerized tomography) scans and MRIs (medical resonance imaging).

CT scans are essentially an advanced method of the traditional x-ray exam first used on patients in 1972. In the conventional x-ray exam, images appear as outlines of the targeted area or organs, whereas a CT scan will show a precise image of these organs as well as the bones, soft tissue and blood vessels. CT scans work by rotating and passing multiple x-ray beams throughout the body. Detectors then measure the amount of radiation absorbed by various parts of the body. The radiation that leaves the body is also detected and converted into electrical signals. These signals are color-coded based on their intensity, and a computer program processes this information. The program then creates images based on theses signals. The images appear as two-dimensional cross sections, or slices, of the body that are then interpreted by a radiologist and sent to the patient’s prescribing doctor.

CT scans are widely used because of their ability to provide high-resolution images of the body’s interior. They are often used as a diagnostic and detection tool and can be performed as whole body scans or can be tailored to a specific area such as the head, abdomen, chest or pelvis. Doctors commonly utilize them to diagnose and locate mesothelioma tumors as well as to identify bone fractures, detect internal injuries, monitor diseases and guide surgeries and biopsies.

Since CT scans involve the use of radiation, they pose a slight health risk are not administered on pregnant women. However, unlike MRIs, they can be safely used on patients with implanted medical devices. They are also more cost effective than MRIs and are often more comfortable for the patient, since movement is not strictly prohibited. The average CT scan takes between 5-45 minutes to perform and is the preferred method for scanning a patient in an emergency situation or for use on the critically ill. They are painless and noninvasive procedures.

MRIs are the preferred scanning method for viewing soft tissue. Some of the newer MRIs can focus solely on targeted areas such as neurological, vascular, hepatic, cardiac, prostate and breast. MRIs are also favored because they can produce images that can be viewed from multiple perspectives, whereas CT scans only offer the single slice view of the body’s interior.

MRIs use nuclear magnetic resonance to create images of the inside of the body. The machine initially creates a magnetic field around the patient and emits radio waves into the body. The machine then measures the response of the particular cells being scanned, taking into account that each cell has a precise degree of magnetic property. This information is transformed by a computer into a highly detailed image, which is then interpreted by a radiologist and given to the patient’s doctor.

MRIs are a relatively new diagnostic tool, having first been used by doctors in the late 1980’s. They have a low probability of side effects, since they do not utilize x-rays or radiation. However, people who have pace makers and other metal implantation devices should not have an MRI because of complications that may arise. MRIs are also more expensive and less comfortable for the patient because of the noise of the machine, the feeling of claustrophobia that may occur and the restriction of movement allowed. The average MRI scan takes between 30-80 minutes and is both noninvasive and painless.

Medical imaging tests have evolved greatly in the past 25 years. From the traditional x-ray scan, to the advanced CT scan, to the even more modern MRI, each offers a closer look into the body. CT scans are still used more frequently than MRIs. In the United States, 18 million MRI scans are performed annually compared to 40 million CT scans. However, MRIs are growing at a faster pace, with an estimated 15 percent annual increase per yearl.




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