Harvard Health Letter

All the pretty pictures

CT scans can speed a diagnosis and make it more accurate, but there's also cost and radiation to worry about.

The economy is in a downturn, but these are boom times for medical imaging. Old-fashioned film x-rays have their place. Doctors still x-ray bones to see if they are broken and order chest x-rays to diagnose pneumonia. But now radiologists — doctors that specialize in making diagnoses from medical imaging — have plenty of other ways to peek inside the human body to get a picture of what's going on. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) produces brilliant images of the brain, spine, and soft tissues around joints. Positron emission tomography (PET) scans are emerging as a way to detect cancer and brain abnormalities. The number of computed tomography (CT) scans done each year in the United States has almost doubled since the late 1990s, so there are now some 60 million CT scans done each year.

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