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What is a spiral computed tomography (CT) scan?

A spiral computed tomography (CT) scan takes images using radiation. It is similar to an x-ray in that they both take images using radiation. The biggest difference is that a spiral CT produces many more images, taken from many different directions all at one time. A computer then generates detailed three-dimensional images. Unfortunately, for the doctor to get more information using a spiral CT scan, the patient must be exposed to more radiation. However, many times, a spiral CT scan is the best method for obtaining a diagnosis.
Spiral CT is a type of computed tomography (CT) scan. It is being used more and more in medical centers across the country to diagnose lung cancer. Spiral CT uses a faster machine that spins continuously around the body. This allows it to more quickly detect images and spot problems. It can also detect small nodules (early-stage lung disease) that cannot be clearly seen on chest x-rays. Another advantage of spiral CT is that it delivers a lower dose of radiation than traditional CT scans.

Spiral CTs also can be used to look for masses in the adrenal glands, brain and other organs that may be affected if lung cancer has spread.

A disadvantage of spiral CT scans is that they are expensive. They also often find tiny nodules that are not cancerous. In that case, additional testing or even major surgery may be needed to prove they aren't cancer.

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