Why can breast tumors be imaged with a scanner but colon or pancreatic cancer cannot? What is the difference?

Question by yowser98734756: Why can breast tumors be imaged with a scanner but colon or pancreatic cancer cannot? What is the difference?
Just wondering why it is possible to get detailed picture of breast tumor from a scanning machine but not other cancers such as colon

Best answer:

Answer by zeldaslexicon
I’m not sure I totally understand your question, but I’ll try . .

Breast lumps are imaged using mammography, which uses x-rays. The breast tissue is compressed as thin as possible to allow lumps to be seen.

Colon cancer would be difficult to detect using “a scanner” (that is, a CT scan) unless the tumor was quite large. This is because you cannot compress the colon to allow good visualization, not to mention the abdominal fat, muscles, and organs that are in the way. Stool in the colon also makes it difficult for a CT scan to get a clear picture of a small polyp. Instead, the colon is cleaned out and a small camera is used to visualize polyps, which are small growths that may be precancerous.

Pancreatic cancer can be visualized using a CT scan, but often pancreatic cancer is not symptomatic until the tumor is quite large, which is why pancreatic cancer is not often caught until it is in it’s late stages. Using CT to screen for pancreatic cancer would require exposing people to a fair amount of radiation on a regular basis, which could put someone at risk for other types of cancer from radiation exposure. Even if you did, because the pancreas is a dense organ, small tumors might not show up. Most tests that screen for cancer aim to detect tumors when they are still quite small. It is simply not possible to do this with many of your internal organs.

P.S. Mammograms, CTs, and MRIs cannot really provide a “detailed” picture of a tumor. Any mass that appears suspicious for malignancy must still be biopsied (that is, a sample is taken directly from the tumor and studied at the cellular level under a microscope) to provide enough information to allow appropriate diagnosis, staging, and to guide treatment.

Hope this helps.

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2 Comments
  1. Reply
    Tree Hugger May 6, 2013 at 1:54 pm

    It has to do with the density of the tumor. Cancer is formed when normal cells from the surrounding tissues “go crazy” and start to reproduce at an abnormally fast rate. Breast tissue is very dense, so therefore cancer cells created from breast tissue will naturally be more dense, too. But, colon and pancreas tissue is comparatively thin and not so dense. Therefore, you need other kinds of diagnostic tools to be able to see diagnose those cancers.

  2. Reply
    Yagen P May 6, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    Different parts of the body are made up differently, and some areas are easier for some scanning technologies to visualize. There is some work being done in “virtual colonoscopy”, which is basically a scan of the colon.

    Check out http://www.cancerdoubts.com There’s information on cancer detection/cancer screening.

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