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CAT (CT) Scans

Reviewed by: Emily F. Conant, MD

Updated October 1, 2010

A CT scan, also known as a CAT scan or computerized axial tomography scan, is a series of computer assembled x-rays of the body’s internal organs shown in a three-dimensional viewing format. The test helps doctors to take images of the organs where cancer can spread, like the bones, liver, lungs, brain or lymph nodes.

During a CT scan, you will receive an IV (intravenous line, put through a vein in your arm) and a technician will inject a solution with color, called a contrast solution, that will make your organs easier to see. You will lie on a table and move through a donut-shaped machine that takes pictures of your body from various angles. The test will not hurt, but some people feel uncomfortable lying still on the table. The length of the exam depends on the parts of the body being scanned.

It is unusual to use CT scans to detect cancer in the breast. If the cancer you have is very large, the scan can be used to look behind the breast to see whether cancer has traveled into the chest wall or elsewhere. CT scans are more often used to check for the presence of cancer in major organs. If you have metastatic breast cancer, your doctor may use CT scans to see whether your treatment is helping to shrink an existing area of cancer.