Why is the Doctor Ordering One More Scan?

January 05, 2016
Lung Imaging

"One more scan" to a cancer patient must sound like a tax auditor asking for "one more form" or a drill sergeant demanding "one more set" of push-ups.

You've done everything you were asked, being as patient and as cordial as any human being could be after being handed a diagnosis that has brought life as you know it to a standstill. Your energy is sapped, your anxiety has peaked. You want an answer and the start of some treatment -- not another test! So, how can those doctors have the nerve to ask for one more scan?

Trust me. If we didn't need the test, we wouldn't ask for it. We want what's best for our patients. In many cases, that means getting treatment started as soon as possible. But it also means making sure that we learn everything we can about your cancer so that we can be as precise as possible with your treatment.

Each scan shows us a different picture of your body. Some tests like bone scans and PET scans give us an overview of your body -- if they show something that concerns us, we may need to get some finer detail from another scan like an MRI or a CT scan. And if you need radiation, you will definitely need "one more scan." We'll need to take one more CT scan with your body positioned just as it will be positioned during treatments by your radiation oncologists.

Unfortunately there is no single perfect scan that tells us if someone has cancer or not or if the cancer we know about has spread. To figure that out we often need to take into consideration the results of multiple scans, physical exam findings, biopsy and surgical results, and our best understanding of how cancer grows and spreads. And even with all of that information, we are sometimes forced to make our best educated guess.

The list of different scans and scenarios in which they would be ordered could fill a book, so remember that your team of doctors wants the best possible outcome for you.

So I give you this nugget of advice: The next time your doctor orders "one more scan," ASK them what it's for and why you need it. There will certainly be a good reason, and you will learn more about your diagnosis and your health.

Remember, an informed patient is an empowered patient!


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