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MRI vs. CT Scans – Tests That Help Adults Identify Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors

Feb 18, 2021 | Articles, General Imaging

Brain and spinal cord tumors are often life-changing medical discoveries that indicate serious diseases, like cancer. If a doctor suspects you to have a tumor, they will require you to undergo tests to confirm its presence. You have two tests to choose from magnetic resonance imaging or MRI and computed tomography or CT. These scans are performed for various reasons, but they are often used to look for brain disease signs. If a brain tumor is present, these scans will undoubtedly show them.

MRI and CT scans allow doctors to make more accurate diagnoses, creating a more effective treatment plan for patients. As these powerful technologies generate high-quality, detailed images of your internal organs and soft tissues, doctors will know what the tumor looks like and where exactly it is located. Here’s what you need to know about these two scans:


All About the MRI Scan

MRI scans are considered the most reliable and effective way to identify tumors in the brain and spinal cord, as they provide more precise images than their CT counterparts. However, they do not capture the skull’s bones as efficiently as CT scans do, which means that the scan cannot illustrate the tumor’s effects on the skull.

MRI systems like the Hitachi MRI Oasis use powerful magnets and radio waves to capture pictures. It requires the patient to consume a contrast material called gadolinium, which the facility staff often inject into the patient, to help the scan distinguish the details more effectively. 

There are particular types of MRI designed for specific situations, like magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) and magnetic resonance venography (MRV). They are used to inspect the brain’s blood vessels, proving useful for surgeons to plan adequately before an operation.

Meanwhile, magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) is a test that can be performed as part of an overall MRI scan. It calculates the biochemical changes in a portion of the brain. It then compares the tumor results to normal brain tissue, helping medical professionals determine the tumor type and how quickly it will grow. Still, a biopsy is needed to obtain an accurate diagnosis of the tumor. 


All About the CT Scan

On the other hand, CT scans like the Siemens CT Sensation 64 use x-rays to generate detailed cross-sectional pictures of your spinal cord, brain, and other parts of your body. While an x-ray offers a closer look at your bones, a CT scan focuses on creating detailed images of your soft tissues. 

MRI scans are used more frequently than CT scans when viewing brain or spinal cord tumors, although CT scans still have special functions. For instance, if MRI isn’t a feasible option, which occurs when patients have claustrophobia or are too overweight, CT scans can provide valuable insight into their condition. They also display more precise detail of the bone structures surrounding the tumor.

Similar to the MRI scan, CT scans use contrast dye that’s administered through an intravenous line before the scan. However, they use a different dye, which is iodine-based. It helps the scan delineate any present tumors.

There are different types of CT scans designed to perform various functions. For instance, CT angiography (CTA) creates detailed pictures of your brain’s blood vessels, helping doctors plan their surgery better. In some cases, CTA offers more comprehensive details of the blood vessels around a tumor than an MR angiography. 

There is also the positron emission tomography (PET) scan, in which the patient receives a dose of a slightly radioactive substance, which gathers in tumor cells. The technician then uses a special camera to map a picture of the radioactive areas in the body. While the generated image isn’t as precise as a regular CT and MRI scan, it still provides useful information about abnormalities and if they are tumors. The PET scan is handy for identifying fast-growing or high-grade tumors than for slower-growing tumors.



MRI and CT scans can help doctors spot brain and spinal cord tumors. If you’re due for either of these scans, it helps to know how it will distinguish these growths and their precise location.

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