Like all tumors, a key to the effective treatment of bone tumors is an early and accurate diagnosis. The presenting symptoms of both benign and malignant bone tumors can be subtle and varied. For that reason, bone tumors are often found by accident when an individual is being imaged for completely unrelated reasons, like an injury.
While most bone tumors, especially ones found with few presenting symptoms, are benign, the only way to accurately diagnose & evaluate these tumors is through diagnostic imaging. In this blog, we’ll be discussing the five imaging methods we employ at Greater Dallas Orthopaedics to render the most accurate diagnoses.
X-rays are the most well known and basic imaging tests we use. They provide essential diagnostic information, and if the x-rays are high quality (like the ones used at GDO) it can often be the only test needed to diagnose and follow a benign bone tumor.
Unlike x-rays, CT scans are a three-dimensional study. These scans allow our orthopedic oncologists to see both the bone and soft tissue in much greater detail compared to x-rays, which leads to the assessment of bone destruction, matrix production, and the degree of bone involvement. For soft tissue concerns specifically, CT scans are more effective than an x-ray but less effective than an MRI.
MRI provides our specialists with extremely high-detail images of both bone and soft tissue. The effectiveness of the MRI is partially due to the use of an IV contrast, which most patients can tolerate with minimal discomfort. While the image quality is high, the introduction of a new variable in the form of the contrast medium means that in some cases, the scan must be repeated to properly scan the entire area in question.
A bone scan is a nuclear medicine test that shows areas of bone turnover and is typically only used when a diagnosis is proving difficult or for staging purposes to ensure there are not other areas of bone involvement. MRI, which we discussed above, has made this test much less necessary in the broad sense, especially in regards to benign bone tumors.
The PET scan is a fairly recent imaging modality compared to others on this list and allows our doctors to see metabolic activity within a tumor. It is typically used for imaging in patients with cancer, but will occasionally be employed for patients with benign bone diseases in very specific instances.
We hope this brief overview of the diagnostic imaging methods used in bone tumor diagnosis was informative and illuminating. While we employ a strategic combination of different imaging methods depending on each patient’s unique situation, these are the five that rely on most heavily.
Stayed tuned for a future blog where we’ll discuss how diagnostic imaging is used in the realm of soft tissue tumors, which does differ in some ways from bone tumor diagnostics.