Imaging: How it helps to Diagnose Cancer?

Dr. Swarnabindu Banerjee
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Treatment of cancer has evolved greatly, with significant improvements in radiology. Imaging is a major component of cancer detection. Some of the imaging tests used for finding various types of cancers are X-rays, CT-Scan, Ultrasound, Mammogram Imaging, MRI Scan, PET Scan and Nuclear Medicine scan.

Cancer is one of the most life-threatening conditions, which is caused due to uncontrolled and abnormal growth of cells in human body, which is comprised of trillions of cells. It can attack any age group and any part of the body. The cancer cells, once active, reproduce and grow at a very swift pace and that’s why with the help of imaging tests, doctors take pictures of the insides of the patient’s body and find out how far the affected tissues have spread. They also check if the patient’s body is responding well to the treatment or not.

Treatment of cancer has evolved considerably, with significant improvements in various outcomes. Some of them may be easy to cure, while some can be managed as a chronic disease. These achievements in medical technology and radiology are fundamentally based on the ever-growing advances in our understanding of the complex biology and diversity of cancer. Innovations in imaging have also provided unprecedented opportunities to contribute to this search for treatments. Imaging has become a major component of comprehensive cancer care and may be used for re-staging after therapy, diagnosis, staging, assessing treatment response, and prognosis.

An Imaging Test is a pictorial representation of all the activities that takes place inside a human body. It is performed to ascertain the diseases or certain conditions present in a body. It is also useful to determine how effectively the medications are working along with analyzing the functions of the body. Diagnostic imaging in medical arena is deployed by the radiologists to take the images of the human body by electromagnetic radiations for the need of accurate diagnosis. The electromagnetic radiations are Radiography, Computed Tomography, and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).

What are imaging tests used for?

Imaging tests are used for the treatment and diagnosis of cancer in many ways. The devices are designed with advanced specifications to pinpoint the exact location in the human body and to give a clear representation of the condition. The imaging devices can be used to:

  • Look for cancer in its early stages even before a person starts to experience symptoms. This test is called early detection or cancer screening tests.
  • Find a mass or tumor if a person has symptoms of cancer. They can also help find out if the symptoms are related to cancer or some other type of disease.
  • Help predict whether a tumor is likely to be cancer. This can help radiologists decide if a biopsy is needed. 
  • Find the tumor located deep inside the body. They can also help find out the stage of the cancer (figure out if and/or how far the cancer has spread).
  • Plan treatments, such as showing where radiation therapy beams need to be focused, and what kind of medication is best suitable. 
  • Show if a tumor has grown, stayed the same, or shrunk after treatment. This gives the doctor an idea of how well the treatment will go and also find out if the cancer has recurred after treatment.

To examine the disease, a complete analysis is conducted which includes health history and medical imaging of patients suffering from the disease. Many a time, diagnostic imaging is repeated to ascertain process of the disease and to examine the extent of cancer that how far it has spread, based on which the doctors further decides the effectiveness of the treatment.

The types of testing include X-rays, CT-Scan, Mammogram, Ultrasound, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Positron Emission Tomography (PET) and Nuclear medicine scans. Let’s discuss these diagnostic imaging devices and what are the common uses of the procedure.

Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan

CT scans imagine device can produce detailed images of many structures inside the body, including internal organs, blood vessels and bones.

They can be used to:

  • Diagnose conditions including cancer, damage to bones, problems with blood flow and injuries to internal organs.
  • Monitor conditions such as checking the size of tumors during and after cancer treatment
  • Guide further medical tests or treatments to help determine the location, size and shape of a tumor before going for radiotherapy.

CT scan


Mammography is a specific type of breast imaging process that uses low-dose x-rays to detect cancer early before women experience symptoms. Diagnostic mammography can also be done after abnormal screening mammogram in order to evaluate the area of concern.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Scan

MRI helps a doctor diagnose an injury or disease like cancer, it can also decide what treatments to perform and what medications are suitable for the patient. MRI can be done on different parts of your body.

MRI imaging of the body is also performed to evaluate:

  • Organs of the chest and abdomen including the heart, liver, biliary tract, kidneys, spleen, bowel, pancreas, and adrenal glands.
  • Pelvic organs including bladder and reproductive organs such as uterus and ovaries in females and prostate gland in males.
  • Blood vessels and lymph nodes.
  • Physicians use an MRI examination to diagnose or monitor treatment for conditions such as tumors of the chest, abdomen or pelvis.
  • Diseases of the liver, such as cirrhosis, and abnormalities of bile duct and pancreas.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
  • Heart problems such as congenital heart disease.
  • Malformations of the blood vessels and inflammation of the vessels.
  • A fetus in the womb of a pregnant woman.

PET Scan

A Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan is a medical imaging test that helps diagnose tissues and organs and their functioning. A PET scan uses a radioactive drug (tracer) to show the activity inside the body. This scan is very effective in finding cancer and can sometimes detect disease, which other imaging tests fail to detect.

PET Scan

A PET scan is an efficient way to examine the chemical activity in various parts of the body. It may help identify a variety of conditions and diseases, including cancer, heart disease and brain disorders. A PET scan enables the doctor to better understand the illness and accordingly evaluate your condition.


Cancer cells show up as bright spots on PET scans because they have a higher metabolic rate than normal cells do. PET scan may be useful in:

  • Detecting cancer
  • Revealing whether cancer has spread
  • Checking whether a cancer treatment is working
  • Finding a cancer recurrence
  • PET scans must be interpreted carefully because noncancerous conditions can look like cancer, and some cancers do not appear on PET scans.

Many types of solid tumors do appear on PET scans, including:

  • Brain
  • Cervical
  • Colorectal
  • Esophageal
  • Head and neck
  • Lung
  • Lymphoma
  • Melanoma
  • Pancreatic
  • Prostate
  • Thyroid

Brain disorders

PET scans can be used to evaluate certain brain disorders, such as tumors, Alzheimer's disease and seizures.

Nuclear Medicine Scan 

In certain cancers, nuclear medicine scan is very effective as it enables to get a clear idea of where the tumors are, their size and structure. We may use this test to find site of origin of the cancer or to check for any growth.

Types of nuclear scan include:

  • Bone scan
  • DMSA kidney scan
  • MAG3 renogram
  • Lung scan
  • MIBG scan
  • Thyroid scan
  • Octreotide scan 

The above mentioned electromagnetic radiation imaging tests are performed based on certain conditions, with which the patient has been diagnosed. For example, MRI is mostly used to determine or test the key organs like brain, liver, pancreas and other soft tissues of human body.

With advancement of modern technologies in cancer imaging, the field of radiology is growing marking a revolutionary change in the context of tumour detection during early stages. If you are look for any of these tests or want to consult a doctor for diagnosis of a disease, possibly cancer, you can contact us at +918929020600.

Dr. Swarnabindu Banerjee

About the Author

Medical Oncologist
Dr. Swarnabindu Banerjee is an Oncologist practicing at Ruby General Hospital which is situated in Kasba Golpark in Kolkata. Dr. Banerjee is an oncologist in the department of medical oncology and tertiary cancer center of the hospital. He specializes in General cancer treatment, Chemotherapy treatment, Laparoscopy surgery, Mastectomy, and Mammoplasty surgery. Dr. Swarnabindu has completed his MBBS and MD in General Medicine from one of the reputed universities in India. He has further pursued DM in Medical Oncology from a reknowned medical university in India. Dr. Swarnabindu Banerjee is practicing in the field of oncology for nearly two decades now. Dr. Banerjee practices at Ruby General Hospital, a Super specialty center situated in Kasba Golpark, Kolkata. Ruby Hospital has a dedicated Ruby Cancer Centre which comprises of Surgical, Medical and Radiation Oncology for the timely cure and treatment of the cancer cases of the patients. Book a FREE appointment with Dr. Swarnabindu Banerjee at
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    1 Comment

    Jasbeer Vikul
    Oct. 20, 2018, 4:08 p.m.
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