Precision planning and personalised care to help you through your cancer journey
What is a CT scan?
A CT (computed tomography) scan is a technique that uses X-ray radiation to take a series of X-rays from different angles around your body. A computer analyses the images and combines the data to create a detailed 3D picture of the inside of your body.
In some cases, you may require a CT scan with contrast. Before having your scan, you will be given a special dye which will help enhance the quality of the images. This is usually given intravenously through a plastic tube (cannula) in the back of the hand, but it may be swallowed in the form of a drink.
A CT scan is also sometimes called a CAT scan (computerised axial tomography). There are some specialised types of CT scans which include:
- Chest abdomen pelvis (CAP) CT – a CAP CT scan creates an image of nearly every area of the body, from the chin to below the hips, rather than just one area. It is particularly useful for analysing the lungs, heart, abdomen and pelvis
- CT Urogram – an imaging exam to investigate the urinary tract, including your kidneys, ureters and bladder
- CT colonography – also known as virtual colonoscopy, this procedure is a less-invasive alternative to an endoscope to investigate polyps and cancers in the large intestine
When would we use a CT scan for cancer?
We can use CT scans during different stages of your cancer journey, including diagnosis and treatment. You may be recommended a CT scan so we can:
- Diagnose cancer
- See where the cancer is, how close it is to nearby organs and how big the tumour is
- Plan additional tests or determine treatment – you may have a CT scan before radiotherapy or as part of a biopsy
- See how effective treatment has been – you may have a CT scan before and after cancer treatment to compare the size of the tumours
You may also have a CT Urogram if you attend one of our UrologyHub clinics. This is used to help diagnose conditions of the urinary tract, such as kidney stones, bladder stones, UTIs and pelvic cancers.
Why do I need a CT scan?
A CT scan wouldn’t normally be used as a screening procedure and you’re unlikely to be recommended one unless you have some symptoms.
Common cancer symptoms include:
- A lump
- Coughing, chest pain and breathlessness
- Changes in bleeding – including bleeding when you cough or in your vomit
- Changes in bowel habits – such as blood in your stools, diarrhoea, constipation, and stomach pains
- A general feeling of poor health – including loss of appetite, fatigue, nausea, vomiting or weight loss
Urological symptoms which may require investigation with a CT Urogram can include:
- Pain during urination
- Pain in your side or back
- Loss of bladder control
- Blood in your urine
CT scanning for radiotherapy planning
At GenesisCare, we also use CT scans to help plan and deliver accurate radiotherapy, including volumetric modulated arc therapy (VMAT), stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR) and MRIdian treatment.
If you’re having radiotherapy, you’ll have a planning appointment a week or so before your treatment begins. You might have an MRI scan too. Your consultant will work with our dosimetrists, physicists, and radiographers to create a radiotherapy treatment plan that is specific to you. They’ll work out the exact dose of radiotherapy you’ll need at each treatment and determine the precise area to target.
Then at each treatment session you’ll have a cone beam CT scan on the treatment bed, before your radiotherapy begins. This is so your radiographers can make sure you’re in the same position as your original planning scan, so the radiotherapy is precisely targeting your tumour. This is called image-guided radiotherapy and is available at GenesisCare for radiotherapy treatment as standard.
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What happens at a CT scan?
If you’re having a CT scan of your abdomen or pelvis, you may be asked to fast before your appointment. You’ll find this information in your appointment letter and your consultant will talk this through with you in more detail.
For most scans, you’ll be able to wear your own clothes, but you should avoid wearing items with metal fasteners as they may interfere with the scanner. Your radiographer may ask you to remove any jewellery and belts, or change into a patient gown. A private changing area and locker for your personal items is provided for your use during the scan.
Once you’re ready to have your scan, your radiographer will take you into the scanning room. Your radiographer may give you an injection of contrast media (a special dye) to improve the quality of your CT scan. This will either be an injection into a vein on the back of your hand or swallowed as a drink. It may make you feel hot, produce a metallic taste in your mouth or feel like you’re urinating when you aren’t. These effects are normal and pass quickly.
Your radiographer will ask you to lie down on your back on the couch and help you into the correct position.
Your radiographer will leave the room but they’ll be able to see you on a screen for the duration of the scan. You’ll be able to talk to one another through an intercom system and they may give you some specific breathing instructions during the scan to help improve the quality of the images.
The couch will slowly move backwards and forwards through the hole of the scanner. The machine looks like a big ring and takes pictures as you move through.
Depending on which area you are having scanned, you may be in the room for 20 to 40 minutes. The scan won’t cause you any pain, the hardest part is staying still but we’ll make sure you’re as comfortable as possible before the scan begins. Once your scan has finished, your radiographer will come back in the room and help you off the couch.
You shouldn’t experience any side-effects from your CT scan and you’ll be able to eat and drink as normal afterwards.
If you had your CT scan with contrast, your radiographer will ask you to stay for a little while until any side effects have passed. This is usually around 30 minutes. The contrast is normally completely harmless and will pass out of your body in your urine.
Your results will be sent to the doctor who referred you for the scan, usually within 24-48 hours of the scan being completed.
Should I be worried about radiation from a CT scan?
A CT scan is a low risk procedure and the amount of radiation you’ll receive from it is equivalent to about five years of naturally occurring (‘background’) radiation. The decision to perform a CT scan is always made by a qualified member of our team who ensures that the radiation exposure is justified.
Your CT scan will provide us with important information and it’s considered that the benefit for you is much greater than the risk from radiation. If you have any concerns or want some more information about the risks of a CT scan, you can speak to your radiographer or visit:
If you’re breast-feeding, pregnant, or know there is chance that you might be, please inform the department where you’ll be having your CT scan ahead of your appointment.
How much does a CT scan cost?
We’re recognised by all major private medical insurers and also offer a range of self-payment options. A GP referral is not always necessary and the cost for a CT scan starts from £530. Find your nearest centre offering CT scanning to book an appointment.