Are CT Scans Accurate for Diagnosing Cancer?
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About CT Scans
In addition to ultrasounds, another scan commonly used in standard cancer diagnosis is a CT scan. CT stands for Computed Tomography. It's an imaging tool that uses X-ray technology to produce scans of the inside of the body. A CT scan is also sometimes called a CAT scan (Computerized Axial Tomography).
While CT scans do show a bit more detail than an ultrasound, they still cannot identify cancerous tissue – and this can easily lead to false negatives. PET/CT scans, on the other hand, provide you with far more accurate and detailed results.
Problems with CT Scans
- CT Scans Fail to Detect Cancer
Like ultrasounds, a CT scan is unable to differentiate cancerous tissue from non-cancerous tissue:
- Therefore, CT scans can lead to a false negative
- This can negatively impact your ability to get any treatment at all
- This can prolong the time it takes you to access treatment
- In the meantime, your cancer can progress
- CT Scans Lack Detail
A CT Scan cannot identify the most aggressive tumours:
- Therefore, doctors are unable to prioritize treatment effectively
- They’re unable to differentiate between cancerous tissue and cysts (or fibroids)
- CT Scans Miss Tumours
A CT scan is unable to clearly identify the location of all tumours in your body:
- Therefore, it is common for tumours to be completely missed
- Or, to have only partial tumour removal during surgery)
- CT Scans are Inaccurate for Treatment Monitoring
After cancer treatment, a CT scan is unable to determine whether masses leftover are cancerous:
- The CT scan might show signs of cancer, but that cancer might not be active
- For example, it could be scar tissue left over from cancer killed off by your treatment
- This means you won’t know whether or not you need to continue treatment
Why is a PET/CT Scan Better Than a CT Scan?
A PET/CT scan, meanwhile, does show if tissue is cancerous or not, and how active it is. This means you won’t receive a false negative. Plus, you will avoid continuing treatment if it's not actually needed. We’ve had clients who’d been told that they were cancer-free, based on a CT scan. But when they got a PET/CT scan, it showed a cancerous tumour that would have otherwise gone untreated.
Simply put, you cannot rely on a CT scan. See our PET/CT vs CT Comparison to learn more about how and why CT scans can fail cancer patients.
If PET/CT is Better, Why are Patients Still Getting CT Scans?
If we know that PET/CT scan is a superior diagnostic tool, why are doctors still prescribing CT scans to patients (usually after they’ve had an ultrasound)?
- CT scans are cheaper than PET/CT scans
- CT scans are cheaper than MRIs
- They provide more detail than an ultrasound
The usual process in standard cancer care is to give people the cheapest (and, usually, least accurate) tests first. If those tests show troubling signs, the patient will get a slightly more expensive –and, more accurate – test. However, PET/CT scans are still not a part of standard care, except in worst case scenarios. But by the time patients in those cases actually get a PET/CT, so much time has passed that incorrect treatments have often already been given, and the cancer has progressed to an uncontrollable point. However...this can be avoided!
When you get a PET/CT scan from the start, you avoid wasting any time at all – and you are guaranteed to get all the facts about whether you have cancerous tumours, where exactly they are, how aggressive they are, and if your treatment is working as well as it should be. Isn't that what you want?
Read more about why PET/CT scans are so effective and how they work.
If you have any questions, or want to access a PET/CT and other life-saving tests & treatments, reach out today to speak with our precision oncology specialists.
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