Breast Imaging: Mammography
Diagnostic Imaging Procedures
Before a patient arrives for an imaging exam, our diagnostic imaging providers review the orders for every CT, MRI and PET exam to ensure we’re conducting the most valuable study. Unlike most imaging centers, which use generic imaging protocols, our radiologists can access a patient’s records and prior imaging studies and then work with the primary provider to design an exam that answers specific clinical questions. This allows us to produce relevant, high-value, oncology-focused reports.
Our team of 21 board-certified imaging physicists continually updates and customizes our machines and imaging modalities. They design custom studies to improve cancer detection and routinely collaborate with leading companies to develop the latest imaging technology.
Subspecialized radiologists with expertise in oncology are available all day, every day to read our patients’ studies. Our radiologists ensure imaging reports are readily available to MD Anderson providers as well as to patients and referring providers (based on patient preference) via MyChart.
Diagnostic imaging clinics
In addition to offering imaging services at our Texas Medical Center locations, MD Anderson also operates imaging clinics in Bellaire, League City and West Houston. These locations offer convenient access, free parking and quick turn-around times. Learn more about our Diagnostic Imaging Clinics.
To schedule an imaging exam, refer a patient or speak with a radiologist, physicians and patients can call 713-745-5170.
- Press 1 for diagnostic imaging scheduling.
- Press 2 to speak to a radiologist or if you have other imaging concerns.
- Press 3 to speak with someone in Diagnostic Imaging administration
Patients who wish to receive their image exam records should contact our Image Library at 713-792-6210. Patients must complete a release of information form in order to obtain records of their imaging exams. Once completed, please email the release form to firstname.lastname@example.org, or fax to 713-563-5066.
You may already know that MRIs and CT scans are two of the imaging methods doctors use to diagnose and stage cancer.
But do you also understand what the difference is between them? And, how physicians decide which one is most appropriate for you?
To answer these and six other questions, we went to Melissa Chen, M.D., a neuroradiologist who specializes in the diagnosis of brain tumors and head and neck cancers.
What are MRIs and CT scans?
A CT scan is like a series of X-rays taken very quickly in a circle around you. When combined and looked at together, they provide a detailed, three-dimensional image of your body.
MRIs use a large, powerful magnet and radio waves to create a similar picture. The radio waves cause the molecules in your body to line up in a certain way, and they send out signals when they revert to their normal positions. This gives us information about the different types of tissue in your body.
Both scans require patients to lie on a movable table that passes through a big, donut-shaped machine.
Is one type of scan better or more detailed than the other?
No. That’s like comparing apples to oranges. They’re both great, just in different ways. I think of them as complementary, because they give us different types of information.
Generally, CT scans are better at spatial resolution, while MRIs are better at contrast resolution. That means CT scans are good at showing us where the edges of things are — where this structure ends and that other one begins. MRIs are good at showing us the differences between various parts of the body and can help cancer tissue stand out from normal tissue.
How do doctors decide which scan to use?
That depends on the patient, their particular type of cancer and what question the doctor is trying to answer. Everyone’s case is unique.
If your doctor wants to assess a bony structure, for instance, then a CT scan could be good for that. But if they’re trying to distinguish between normal tissue and cancerous tissue, an MRI is probably a better choice. If someone has a lot of ascites, though, or fluid-filled pockets, they can distort an MRI and make it difficult to get a good, clear image.
So, often, it boils down to: what’s the best picture I can get based on the patient’s condition?
What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of MRIs and CT scans?
A CT scan is much faster than an MRI. It’s super-quick. The preparation usually takes longer than the scan itself, which lasts a minute or less. If someone is in a lot of pain, or if they find it hard to hold still for long periods of time, then a CT scan is often your best option.
We can see things more clearly sometimes with an MRI, but those take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to obtain, depending on how much of your body is being scanned. If someone moves during the scan, the images will be distorted.
Still, if doctors see something on a CT scan they’re unsure about, they may order an MRI to get a better look at it and figure out what it is. That’s why I think of MRIs as more of a problem-solving tool.
Are CT scans or MRIs ever the preferred scan for a particular cancer?
Yes. CT scans are really good at showing lung cancer, for instance. But you’re going to want an MRI for anything related to the spinal canal. MRIs are also the preferred scan for looking at brain tumors.
Is there any reason why someone should not have an MRI or a CT scan?
Yes. Since a very powerful magnet is involved, let your doctor know if you have any metal implants, pacemakers or prosthetics before having an MRI. Also let them know if you have a history of metal-working (like welding) or have any type of foreign body embedded in your tissues, such as bullet fragments, metal flakes or shrapnel.
If something is ferro-magnetic (iron-based), it could become dislodged and move around inside your body during an MRI.
Why does the room tend to be cold when you get an MRI or CT scan?
A lot of patients comment about how cool it is in the room while they’re getting an MRI. That’s because MRI machines have a special cooling process, and we have to keep the room cold to prevent them from overheating. We offer patients heated blankets to stay warm.
Should patients be concerned about radiation from scans?
Some patients worry about exposure to ionizing radiation, which is used during X-rays, mammograms and CT scans. But we do everything we can to minimize the amount of radiation being used, while still obtaining the level of detail we need in an image. And, we wouldn’t recommend a particular scan if we weren’t totally convinced that the benefits of having it far outweighed any risks.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.
Diagnostic imaging procedure videos
Breast imaging captures images of breast tissue by combining multiple imaging technologies, such as mammography (the use of x-rays), ultrasound and MRI procedures.
Learn more about breast imaging on our Mammograms and Breast Examination page.
CT (Computer Axial Tomography) scan
A CAT (computerized axial tomography) scan, also known as a CT scan, uses an x-ray machine to take several pictures from different angles, providing a highly detailed image. Some CT scans require contrast to enhance the image quality. Patients may be given contrast to drink or have it administered through an IV prior to a scan. Some areas of the body that are examined with a CT scan are the chest, the nervous system and musculoskeletal systems. MD Anderson offers weekend appointments for those needing a CT.
Learn more about what to expect and how to stay safe during your CT scan.
Clinical nuclear medicine
Clinical nuclear medicine uses a small amount of radioactive tracers to indicate the presence of disease within specific organs. This imaging technique helps reveal the concentration and location of the disease. Exams performed include bone scans, bone mineral density, thyroid cancer study and more.
Fluoroscopy/radiography utilizes x-rays to take a wide variety of images that form a live look at internal organs. This type of imaging is common for pediatric patients. Fluoroscopy can also be used to help guide the placement of medical devices inside the body. The spine, chest, pelvis and more are evaluated with this method.
General/body ultrasound operates with high-energy sound waves that bounce off internal tissues and organs and produce echo patterns. The echo patterns create a picture referred to as a sonogram, which can be seen on the ultrasound machine. A biopsy may also be performed during an ultrasound. Ovarian screening, pelvic bleeding and abnormal blood work are a few reasons to perform an ultrasound.
MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)
MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) uses magnetic fields and radio waves, rather than radiation, to generate pictures of the body’s soft tissue and organs. Contrast may be added into the body to enhance the images. Metal outside the body, such as jewelry, must be taken off, while metal inside the body, such as surgical implants, must be removed before a scan. An MRI can be used to image the head, spine, abdomen and other body parts. MRI is available during the weekend at some MD Anderson locations.
Learn more about what to expect and how to stay safe during your MRI.
PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scan
PET (positron emission tomography) scan is a technique in which a small dose of radioactive sugar is injected into a patient. A scanner shows where the sugar is being distributed, allowing for the creation of an image. The pictures can help radiologists find cancer cells in the body. Tests are conducted for PET oncology and neurology.
X-rays are the most common way doctors attain images of the inside of the body. They use low doses of high-energy radiation that travel through the body. Radiography refers to the use of x-rays. Radiologists can spot abnormal areas in x-ray images that may indicate the presence of cancer.
request an appointment online.