Can An X Ray Pick Up Cancer

Bob Roberts
• Monday, 09 November, 2020
• 7 min read

From the WebMD Archives April 8, 2005 -- When the news that Peter Jennings had lung cancer hit earlier this week, many WebMD users asked why doctors don't use chest X -rays to diagnose lung cancer at an early stage, when it's more treatable. WebMD turned to cancer expert Harold Burstein, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, for the answer.

(Source: web.archive.org)


The vast majority of lung cancer cases are caused by smoking, ” Burstein tells WebMD. Chest X -rays are inadequate for diagnosing lung cancers at an early stage, when they are more treatable.

The hope was that these CT scans would be able to find smaller, earlier cancers without leading to further unnecessary tests. “A variety of recent studies in the U.S. and Japan have suggested that high-resolution CT scans can often detect lung cancers.

However, he explains that these were small, early studies that were not able to answer the questions of whether CT scans can actually save lives. The report by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the U.S. Preventive Health Services Task Force says evidence that chest X -rays, CT scans, and other forms of screening can save lives is poor.

X -rays and other radiographic tests help doctors look for cancer in different parts of the body including bones, and organs like the stomach and kidneys. Contrast studies may require more preparation ahead of time and may cause some discomfort and side effects, depending on what kind you are having.

Radiographs, most often called x -rays, produce shadow-like images of bones and certain organs and tissues. They can show some organs and soft tissues, but MRI and CT scans often give better pictures of them.

Another contrast study, an intravenous pyelogram (MVP), uses a special dye to look at the structure and function of the urinary system (ureters, bladder, and kidneys). For instance, in the past, angiography was often used to help learn the stage or extent of cancer, but now CT and MRI scans are most often used to do this.

After passing through the body, the beam hits a piece of film or a special detector. Tissues that block high amounts of radiation, such as bone, show up as white areas on a black background.

You’ll need to remove jewelry or other objects that might interfere with the image. You’ll be asked to sit, stand, or lie down, depending on the body part to be x-rayed.

You may have special shields put over parts of your body near the area being x-rayed so that they’re not exposed to the radiation. Usually the technologist leaves the room to operate the machine by remote control.

You will lie still on a table as the skin over the injection site is cleaned and numbed. A tiny cut will be made so the catheter (thin plastic tube) can be put into a blood vessel (usually the artery at the top of the thigh) and slid in until it reaches the area to be studied.

Firm pressure might be needed on the catheter site for a while to make sure it doesn’t bleed. You’ll also need to lie flat and keep your leg still for up to several hours.

Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) is an MRI study of the blood vessels. Intravenous pyelogram (MVP): You’ll probably be asked not to eat or drink anything for about 12 hours before this test, and you must take laxatives to clean out your bowel.

Another series of x -rays is taken over the next 30 minutes or so to get pictures of the dye as it moves through the kidneys and out of your body. Pressure may be applied to the belly to help make the image clearer.

Then liquid barium is put into your bowel through a small, soft tube placed in your rectum. Upper GI series: You will probably be asked to not eat or drink for 8 to 12 hours before this test.

You will lie down and be strapped to a tilting table while a series of x -rays are taken as the barium coats your esophagus and stomach. You’ll need to swallow the barium mixture a few times during the test.

You might also be asked to swallow baking soda crystals to create gas in your stomach. Venography : As you lie still on a table, the skin over the vein to be used is cleaned and numbed.

Extra fluids may be given through the catheter to help wash the dye out of your body. Firm pressure may be needed on the site for a while to make sure it doesn’t bleed.

The contrast material may cause nausea, vomiting, flushing, itching, or a bitter or salty taste. In rare cases, people can have a severe allergic reaction to the contrast material that affects their breathing and blood pressure.

There’s also a small risk of damage to the blood vessel from the catheter, which could lead to internal bleeding. A hematoma (a large collection of blood under the skin) may develop where the catheter was put in if pressure is not kept on the site long enough.

Intravenous pyelogram (MVP): The contrast dye sometimes causes some people to have flushing, mild itching, or a bitter or salty taste. In rare cases, people have a severe reaction to the contrast material and need emergency treatment.

Lower GI series (barium enema): The test can be uncomfortable. The barium contrasts material will make your stools a light color for a few days after the test and may cause constipation.

Your arm or leg (where the catheter is put in) may feel numb during the test. In rare cases, people can have a severe allergic reaction to the contrast material that affects their breathing and blood pressure.

There’s also a small risk of damage to the blood vessel from the catheter, which could lead to internal bleeding. A newer technology, called digital radiology, produces pictures on computer screens rather than on film.

The size and contrast of the pictures can be digitally adjusted to make them easier to read, and they can be sent to computers in other medical offices or hospitals. Only because I have miserable IBS / bowel problems that so far the hospital hasn't been able to diagnose.

I have another colorectal consultant apt this week, so I'm going to mention it just in case. But they caught my tumor before it spread (was a stage 4,which is the worst), removed it & I have to take my last lot of chemo tablets tomorrow morning.

That's why they do MRI, CT, pet scans, ultrasound, etc. I did have a hysterectomy 3 yrs ago (lots of bad smear tests, and they couldn't cut any more of my cervix out) and they checked my ovaries at the time and said they were ok.

Reeny I don't think they do think it's my ovaries as I'm currently plodding through all the colorectal tests, but they might all be looking in the wrong place. I was bashed by a car (slowly) a few years ago, and it felt a bit odd recently so had it checked out.

The consultant apt is just a routine one, I go every few weeks after the latest test / round of random medication to see if it helps. Not crowns / celiac / UC / ulcers / bacteria etc......

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