Picture perfect – imaging and cancer diagnostics

imaging and cancer diagnosticsRecently I accompanied a family member, newly diagnosed with breast cancer, for a lymphatic mapping appointment in nuclear medicine. Lymphatic mapping is an important tool for imaging and cancer diagnostics; it helps identify the sentinel node before a patient has a sentinel lymph node biopsy. Her mother was at the appointment too.

As we traveled through the halls on B1 at the University of Michigan, she read all the different areas for patient appointments. Interventional radiology, PET Scan, CT Scan, and MRI were among the signs she pointed out to me. She couldn’t believe there were so many different types of tests and different sections of radiology. As a long time employee at U-M, I am familiar with the different types of procedures associated with diagnosing cancer. However, for those new to dealing with the hospital system it seems very confusing.

When initially diagnosed with cancer, usually with a biopsy, many people think treatment is the next step. However, other tests may be ordered by the physician to help determine the stage of the cancer. Staging refers to how much cancer there is in a person’s body and where it is located. Doctors need to know the stage of the cancer to be able to choose the best possible treatment. Most often, radiology tests are needed to help determine the stage of the cancer.

U-M Radiology is committed to performing patient examinations at the lowest radiation exposure necessary to create images that answer the questions your health care provider is asking.

Some of the radiology services that may be used with a cancer diagnosis can include:

  1. Breast Imaging: Image-guided procedures offered are stereotactic core needle biopsies, wire localizations, image-guided fine-needle aspirations, and ultrasound-guided core needle biopsies.
  2. Computed Tomography (CT/CAT scan) – An x-ray test used for diagnosis. X-rays are taken from a series of different angles and arranged by a computer to show a cross-sectional view of organs in the body.
  3. Cross-sectional Interventional Radiology – uses state-of-the-art imaging such as ultrasonography (ultrasound), computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to diagnose and/or treat a variety of medical conditions. Examples of procedures performed: core needle biopsy, cryoablation, radiofrequency ablation, thorancentesis, and other procedures.
  4. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) – Is a technique that uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create cross-sectional images of your head and body. These detailed images are used to diagnose a wide range of conditions. MRI can be used to view: abdomen and pelvis, arteries and veins, bone and joint, breast, chest and heart, head/neck and spine.
  5. Nuclear Medicine: Nuclear Medicine involves the medical uses of radiopharmaceuticals. The Nuclear Medicine Program also can help diagnose and treat cancers such as lymphoma and thyroid cancers. Some of the most commonly used nuclear scans are: bone scans, gallium scans, PET scans, thyroid scans, and MUGA scans. Sentinel Lymph node mapping (lymphoscintigraphy) is also done in this department.
  6. Pulmonary Radiology: Lung imaging includes chest X-ray, lung angiogram, CT, MRI and CT pulmonary angiography. In addition to standard CT studies of the lungs for infection and cancer.
  7. Ultrasound – Also called a sonogram, is a medical diagnostic procedure that uses sound waves to produce pictures of the inside of the body. Ultrasound can be used in breast cancer, prostate and other cancer detection.
  8. Vascular and Interventional Radiology (minimally-invasive image-guided procedures) Vascular and Interventional Radiology are medical sub-specialties of radiology utilizing minimally-invasive image-guided procedures to diagnose and treat diseases in nearly every organ system. Cancer and Tumor Management includes: bone and spine tumors and cancers, cancer that has spread to the liver from another site, kidney and adrenal tumors, liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Questions to ask your oncologist about diagnostic tests

  • What diagnostic tests or procedures will I need? How often?
  • Where will I go to have the tests or procedures?
  • What will we learn from the tests or procedures?
  • When will I get the results, and how will I receive them? For example, will I receive them over the phone or at my next appointment?
  • Will I need to repeat any tests or procedures if I seek a second opinion?

The type of cancer you have will determine what further diagnostic tests are needed to help your oncologist develop the best treatment plan for you. Please feel free to share any tips you may have about undergoing radiology testing that may help others.

Take the next step:

  • Learn more about imaging and cancer diagnostics from the American Cancer Society.
  • Still have questions? Call the nurses at the University of Michigan Cancer AnswerLine™. They can help patients or their loved ones find a clinical trial or provide insights into the newest and latest cancer treatments. Feel free to call at 1-800-865-1125 or send an e-mail.

2013 annette 1The Cancer AnswerLine™ nurses are experienced in oncology care, including helping patients and their families who have questions about cancer. These registered oncology nurses are available by calling 800-865-1125 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Your call is always free and confidential.



Cancer-center-informal-vertical-sig-150x150The University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s 1,000 doctors, nurses, care givers and researchers are united by one thought: to deliver the highest quality, compassionate care while working to conquer cancer through innovation and collaboration. The center is among the top-ranked national cancer programs, and #1 in Michigan according to U.S. News & World Report. Our multidisciplinary clinics offer one-stop access to teams of specialists for personalized treatment plans, part of the ideal patient care experience. Patients also benefit through access to promising new cancer therapies.