CT Scan and MRI: What Are the Differences?

CT Scan and MRI: What Are the Differences?

Diagnosing cancer is not exactly child’s play, which is why sophisticated medical gear are needed. Therefore, doctors may choose either CT (computed tomography) or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to figure out if the patient is suffering from the disease or not.

Unfortunately, we can’t deny that there are plenty of individuals out there who don’t know how to differentiate CT from MRI and vice versa. They are also confused when it comes to why doctors select one of the two methods over the other.

Thanks to Maria LaGratta, who’s the Director of Radiology at MSK Monmouth, and the official website of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (mskcc.org), which reveals her answers, we can now learn some important information about both CT and MRI.

CT scans: What do they show?

A CT scan will create detailed pictures of the bones, organs, and tissues of a person’s body using X-rays. The patient will have to lie down on a table, and the data collected will lead to 3D images being generated. Furthermore, the images will reveal possible abnormalities in the soft tissues and bones of the person examined. In this way, doctors can detect tumors, bone fractures, or even pneumonia.

MRI: What does it show?

While MRI is similar to CT scans in the sense that they both recreate pictures of specific areas inside the patient’s body, the former will use radio waves and a powerful magnet for it. The patient will also have to lie down on a table, and the resulting pictures will eventually show the tissues that are affected.

CT scans: What are the advantages?

CTs are highly efficient when it comes to diagnosing and staging cancers, and this technology offers doctors the possibility to create an image of almost the entire body of the patient. CT scans can even tell if a cancer has returned and tell if the ongoing treatment is working or not.

CT scans aren’t used only for cancers, as the technology can also tell if the patient deals with other dangerous conditions such as bone fractures, blood clots, internal bleeding, and more.

MRIs: What are the advantages?

Where CTs fail, an MRI can prevail. In other words, MRIs can reveal that the patient is suffering from certain diseases that a CT scan fails to detect. For instance, CT scans are unable to detect specific cancers. MRIs are also better at detecting metastases to the brain and bone.

CTs and MRIs: What are the downsides?

According to the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), the CT scan can increase the risk of fatal cancer for the patient by about 1 in 2,000. That’s because CTs use ionizing radiation, which could damage human DNA and pose a very low risk of developing cancer.

On the other hand, MRIs don’t pose any risk of cancer because the technology doesn’t involve the use of ionizing radiation. The problem is that MRIs last much longer than CT scans and could even affect people who suffer from claustrophobia. MRIs require that the patient lie still in a closed space for about half an hour.

What imaging should a patient receive?

In the case of most patients, CT scans are used first unless an MRI can see a tumor much better. However, doctors will go back and forth as needed. If doctors see something on a CT scan that triggers doubt, an MRI might be recommended for more evaluation. If, on the other hand, the patient has been through a few MRIs and can’t hold still or hold their breath so doctors can get a good image, a CT scan might be needed.


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