If you’ve been diagnosed with a brain tumour, or referred to a specialist by your GP for further testing, then no doubt you will have of lot of questions and new experiences and emotions to deal with. One of the things which often causes anxiety for new patients is going for a scan, but unfortunately multiple scans will usually be necessary.
Here is some more information about the type of scans you will have, and some tips on how to feel calm and prepared during your scan.
CT scans, or CAT scans as they are often called, refer to Computerised Tomography scans. The CT scanner will take multiple images of the inside of your head, and then computer technology will be used to stack them together into one 3D image. This allows clinicians to confirm if you have a brain tumour, and if so, where it is positioned and how big it is.
MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging, and this type of scanner uses magnetic fields rather than x-rays. However, the 3D image is created in a similar way, by taking several 2D images of the inside of your head, which are then used to build a single 3D image.
PET scan stands for positron emission tomography scan. They work by injecting a slightly radioactive substance into the body, and a specialised camera is then used to highlight may areas of abnormality. They can provide a more accurate diagnosis of a tumour than MRI scans, but are more often used for monitoring purposes.
Before your scan
If you have told that you have an appointment for a scan, find out in advance which type of scan it will be, and ask your doctor to talk through the process with you. If you would find it helpful, record the conversation so you can play it back later and make sure that you have understood all the points.
The scanning process
Both MRI and CT scans involve placing your head and neck inside the scanner. An MRI scanner is usually a tube shape, while a CT scanner is ring shaped. CT scans are usually fairly quick, taking between one to 10 minutes, depending on the model of scanner.
MRI scans usually take longer, and the time taken varies depending on how large the area being scanned is, and how much detail is required. It could be anything from 15 to 90 minutes.
Before your scan, a clinician will conduct a health questionnaire to make sure that the procedure is safe for you. You’ll be asked to remove any metal items that you are wearing, such as jewellery, including piercings and watches. You will also need to remove dentures, hearing aids, glasses, and wigs.
One of the main reasons that people fear scans is because they find the prospect claustrophobic. This is perfectly understandable and very common. It may help to have someone with you, such as a friend or relative.
Let your GP or hospital staff know in advance if you think that you will have difficulty in coping because of your anxiety. They may prepare a mild sedative to help you feel calmer, although you should have someone to drive you home afterwards if this is the case. You will also be given an emergency button to press if you want to stop the scan at any point.
In some cases, staff may be able to position mirrors which help you to see outside of the scanner, which can reduce feelings of claustrophobia. It may be useful to explore some mindfulness techniques, which focus on controlled breathing as a way of managing anxiety.
Scans are not painful procedures, but they can be disconcerting experiences. An MRI scanner will make intermittent loud tapping noises, for example, which is created by the electric current being turned on and off. You’ll usually be given the option of listening to music through headphones, or given earplugs, which can help to keep you calm.
Remember that it’s important not to talk or move during the scan, as this will result in blurred and inaccurate images. Unless you have had a sedative, you should not experience any after effects from the scan.
It usually takes one to two weeks for the results of your scan to be available. This can be an emotionally demanding time, and it may help to join some support groups which put you in touch will others in a similar situation.
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