Health professionals are increasingly using imaging technology to help diagnose and treat prostate cancer. Some of the most common imaging technologies used are described below:
Computed Tomography (CT) Scan
- CT scans use special x-ray equipment to make cross-sectional images of organs, tissues, bones and blood vessels.
- CT scans are usually only useful in men with prostate cancer that has a likelihood of spreading. So, it’s useful in determining if the cancer has spread to nearby structures such as lymph nodes.
- CT scan of the abdomen is also useful for detecting metastases (spread of cancer) to other organs such as the liver
Transrectal Ultrasound (TRUS)
- One of the most common sites of prostate cancer spread is the bones. Bone scans use radioactive materials (radiopharmaceuticals) and a computer to create an image of the bones.
- A small amount of safe radioactive material is injected into a vein in your arm. If cancer has spread to the bone it will collect in the cancerous areas and show up on the scan.
- A bone scan is usually done in men where there is clinical suspicion of cancer spreading to bone.
- Bone scans are sometimes repeated to follow the course of disease, e.g. response to hormone treatment, or cancer progression.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
- Healthcare professionals will use TRUS to take images of the prostate gland.
- A small lubricated probe is inserted into the rectum which gives off high-frequency sound waves to make images of the prostate.
- This test is useful:
- in determining the size of the prostate
- in identifying some abnormal or suspicious areas in the prostate, although TRUS alone is of limited value in diagnosing cancer, since “abnormal areas” in the prostate seen on TRUS often do NOT mean they are cancerous, and conversely, cancer often does not show on TRUS
- Mainly as a guide for biopsies and some treatment options such as brachytherapy (radioactive seed implant), cryosurgery and HIFU (high intensity focused ultrasound treatment)
- Your healthcare team may use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to identify prostate cancer.
- An MRI uses strong magnets and radio waves to create 3D images of organs, tissues, bones and blood vessels.
- MRI’s are sometimes used to see if prostate cancer has spread to surrounding tissues and/or structures. Often, this shows how invasive the cancer is, and can help doctors determine the best treatment options.
Image-guided Radiation Therapy
- MRI has become increasingly useful for identifying abnormal areas within the prostate suspicious for cancer. This assists the physician in diagnosing some cancers, and in planning treatment in other cancers
- Healthcare professionals use imaging techniques during radiation therapy to better target cancerous tissue and avoid causing damage to healthy tissues.
- Between treatments, the prostate gland and nearby organs can move. Radiation therapy machines have imaging capabilities such as ultrasound, cone-beam CT or stereoscopic X-rays, which accurately target the prostate and help ensure that the radiation beam is targeting the cancerous tissue.
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