A CT scan, also known as a CAT scan or computerized axial tomography scan, is a series of digital x-rays of the inside of the body shown in 3-D format. This test helps doctors take images of the organs where cancer can spread, like the bones, liver, lungs, brain or lymph nodes.
The scan can also be used to look deep behind the breast to see whether cancer extends into the chest wall or elsewhere. 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.
During a CT scan you will receive an IV, an intravenous line put through a vein in your arm. A technologist will inject a colorless solution called iodinated contrast through the IV that will make your organs easier to see on the scan. (If you have kidney disease or are allergic to iodinated contrast, your doctor can perform the CT without it.) You will lie on a table and move through a donut-shaped machine that takes pictures of your body from different angles.
The test does not hurt, but some people feel uncomfortable lying still on the table. You may feel flushed for a few seconds when you receive the contrast. The length of the exam depends on the parts of your body being scanned, but most exams take less than 10 minutes.