What are Imaging Tests?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last review date: September 2017.

Healthcare providers use a range of different imaging tests to examine the structures of a patient’s urinary tract to help make a diagnosis of bladder cancer.1,2 Imaging tests are often used after a diagnosis of bladder cancer has been confirmed by the results of biopsy tests. Biopsies are small samples of tissue taken from the bladder lining and/or the muscles in the walls of the bladder, which are analyzed in the laboratory to see if there are cancer cells in the tissue or muscle.

Staging bladder cancer after diagnosis

Imaging tests can help healthcare providers to “stage” a patient’s bladder cancer. The process of staging bladder cancer after diagnosis involves describing the cancer’s location, the type of cancer cells involved, and whether the cancer cells have spread to other areas of the body.

What types of imaging tests are used?

Imaging tests use various types of technology to represent the inside of the body in visual form, like a type of picture. Imaging techniques that can be used to help diagnose and stage bladder cancer include:

  • Intravenous pyelogram (IVP)
  • Retrograde pyelogram
  • Computed tomography (CT/CAT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Ultrasound

What is an intravenous pyelogram?

An intravenous pyelogram (IVP) involves injecting a special type of dye into a patient’s bloodstream through a vein and then taking x-rays.1,2 The dye travels into the urinary tract after it is filtered by the kidneys and highlights the kidneys, ureters, and bladder. The dye makes it easier for a healthcare provider to see if there are any tumors or other blockages in the urinary tract. This type of imaging is also called an intravenous urogram.

What is a retrograde pyelogram?

During a retrograde pyelogram, a thin tube (catheter) is inserted into the bladder through the urethra, which is the hollow tube-shaped organ through which urine travels out of the body from the bladder.1 Before x-rays are taken of the urinary tract, special dye is inserted directly into the bladder where it travels up through the ureters and into the kidneys. Like an intravenous pyelogram, the dye makes tumors in the bladder and urinary tract easier to see on the x-rays.

What is a CT scan?

A computed tomography scan—usually called a CT or CAT scan—is computer technology that is used to combine multiple x-rays to create detailed, three-dimensional pictures of the inside of the body.3,4 This can make it easier for healthcare providers to see tumors in the bladder or other parts of the urinary tract that are not as easily visible using normal x-rays. To help diagnose and stage bladder cancer, a CT urogram may be used. This involves a dye injected into a vein in the patient’s hand or arm before the scan. The dye is filtered by the kidneys, like in an intravenous pyelogram, and this highlights the kidneys, ureters, and bladder. The CT scan can then provide an even more detailed picture of the patient’s urinary tract for staging the bladder cancer.

What is magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans?

Magnetic resonance imaging scans—usually called MRI scans—do not use x-rays to create a detailed picture of the bladder and the rest of the urinary tract, but use magnetic fields and radio waves.1,2 An MRI that creates a picture of the kidneys, ureters, and bladder is called an MRI urogram. Sometimes a contrast dye is used to help make the picture more detailed.

What is an ultrasound?

Unlike the other types of imaging tests, ultrasounds use sound waves to create a picture of the bladder, kidneys, and surrounding areas.1,2 Ultrasound imaging can help healthcare providers to measure the size of tumors in the bladder.

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