What Is a Breast CT Scan?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A breast Computed Tomography (CT) scan is a medical imaging study of the breast offering a view in three dimensions. This can provide a high level of detail to a medical provider reviewing the information for diagnostic or treatment planning purposes. There are also potential applications for CT scanning in preventative care, where they may offer advantages over conventional mammograms used to evaluate the breast for early signs of cancerous growth.

A patient undergoing a breast CT scan will lie face down on a table that is slid into a scanner that takes photographs of the patient's chest area.
A patient undergoing a breast CT scan will lie face down on a table that is slid into a scanner that takes photographs of the patient's chest area.

During a breast CT scan, the patient lies face-down on a table which slides into the scanning equipment. In some cases, a medical practitioner may inject a contrast medium to highlight certain structures within the breast. Inside the equipment, a series of x-rays capture different angles of the breast, and a computer can process these images to create a detailed series of “slices” of different layers of the breast, as well as a three-dimensional rendering. The level of resolution can be very high, especially with new equipment.

A breast CT scan can allow a doctor to correctly identify a lump in the breast.
A breast CT scan can allow a doctor to correctly identify a lump in the breast.

The equipment can be set to capture a larger area, as well, during a breast CT scan. This can allow for examination of neighboring organs and structures like lymph nodes to check for any signs of disease. The area covered in the scanning can be determined by a medical provider supervising the case, based on the amount of information that will be necessary to provide the patient with the best medical treatment.

Diagnostically, the breast CT scan can allow a doctor to identify a growth in the breast and learn more about its position, size, and nature. This can be important for treatment planning, which may include surgery as well as radiation and chemotherapy to aggressively treat a breast neoplasm. Radiologists can review the scans and provide a specific medical opinion, and they can also be useful for surgeons who want to plan the best surgical approach to the breast. Patients may review their CT scans with a medical provider to learn more about their condition and the treatment options.

In preventative screening, the breast CT scan has several advantages. The first is a high level of detail and resolution, which may allow the reviewer to catch small growths and distinguish between artifacts on the image and actual tumors. For patients, a breast CT scan is much more comfortable than a mammogram, which requires compression of the breast in order to capture a clean x-ray image. This test uses the same amount of radiation as a mammogram, so it does not come with increased risks for patients.

Breast cancer occurs more often than usual in some families due to their genetic make-up.
Breast cancer occurs more often than usual in some families due to their genetic make-up.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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