Imaging Tests

If a provider suspects that prostate cancer may be present, they may order one or more imaging tests.

Transrectal Ultrasound
A transrectal ultrasound involves the insertion of a probe about the size of a finger into the rectum. The probe directs high-frequency sound waves at the prostate. Echo patterns from the sound waves form an image of the prostate on a computer screen. The image shows the size of the prostate and may indicate whether there are any abnormalities. Unfortunately, a transrectal ultrasound cannot confirm the presence of a tumor. A biopsy of the prostate is often planned for the same time as the transrectal ultrasound.

Transrectal Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
This test uses a strong magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of internal organs and structures. The MRI machine can make clear pictures of the prostate and nearby tissue. This test is done to find out if the cancer has spread outside the prostate into nearby tissues, or help to guide areas to biopsy in the future.

Computed Tomography (CT) Scan
CT scans use a series of x-rays and computer analysis to create cross-sectional images of internal organs. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the organs and tissues show up more clearly. A CT scan may be ordered to determine if cancer has spread beyond the prostate and nearby tissues.

Nuclear Bone Scan
In nuclear imaging studies, tiny amounts of radioactive materials, called tracers, are injected into a vein and taken up in varying amounts at different sites in the body. Tracers tend to accumulate more in cancer cells than in normal cells. An arm-like device with a tracer-sensitive camera is passed over the body to locate areas where tracers have accumulated. This imaging test is done to evaluate whether cancer has spread, or metastasized, to the bones.