If you or a family member has been diagnosed with cancer, you’ll probably find yourself going to a lot of imaging scans. Imaging scans are a tool your health care team may use to see how well your cancer treatment is working. These scans may be scheduled before, during, and after treatments.
Imaging scans are an important part of the treatment process, but they can also be stressful. Understanding the types of scans you may have and being prepared for them can help.
Types of imaging scans
Three of the most common types of imaging scans used for cancer are MRI, CT, and PET scans. As part of your treatment plan, your health care team may use one or all of these types of scans.
An MRI—or a magnetic resonance imaging—scan uses powerful magnets to take very detailed pictures of soft tissue and specific areas within your bones.
A CT—or a computed tomography—scan is also called a CAT scan. It creates a 3-dimensional picture of your body by taking pictures from different angles with x-rays.
A PET—or positron emission tomography—scan uses something called a radiotracer to find and measure disease in the body. This tracer is made out of a simple form of sugar. Cancer cells use sugar faster than normal cells, which makes them look brighter on the images produced by the scanner.
Meeting with your health care team
Bring along a loved one
When you receive your cancer scan results, if possible, have a family member or friend join you. Besides being there to provide emotional support, they can help you take notes, or remind you of the things you wanted to talk about with your health care team.
Share your concerns
If you have any questions or concerns, share them with your health care team immediately. Also, the information you receive during your scan follow-up appointment can be a lot to take in, so it’s helpful to take notes during the discussion.
Some questions you might want to ask include:
- How often will I need to have follow-up imaging scans?
- How will my scan results affect my treatment options and long-term outcome?
- In addition to imaging scans, are there other tests I may need that will help us decide the next steps for my treatment?
Remember, you and your health care team are partners in treatment, and sharing information can help you make informed decisions and know what to expect.
Ways to prepare for your next scan
It’s very common to feel anxious leading up to a scan and while waiting for your results. The tips below may help.