CT scan, MRI, PICC line and portacath

What is a CT scan?


A CT scan (Computed Tomography Scan) uses X-ray to create detailed images of the body.

– Before the scan, a special contrast dye (containing iodine) is injected intravenously. To avoid getting sick from the dye, it is advised not to eat or drink 2 hours before the procedure.

– For the scan, you lie on your back and a doughnut shaped ring rotates around the part of the body that is being scanned.

It last about 15 minutes.

– There is of course small dose of radiation involved. That’s why everyone leaves the room and talks to you through a speaker system 🙂

At the end of the scan the Radiologist produces a report to summaries the findings.  This is generally a comparison against a previous scan. You can get a copy of this report from your Oncologist. The scan itself is recorded in a 3D format.  So, no printouts.

More information here: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/CT-scan/Pages/Introduction.aspx

What is an MRI scan?


Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a type of scan that uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of the inside of the body.

Depending on what part of the body is being scanned, a special contrast dye maybe administered.

– An MRI scanner is a large tube that contains powerful magnets. You lie inside the tube during the scan.

– It’s a little claustrophobic but there is no pain involved.

– You must wear headphones because it is very loud.

-It takes quite a bit longer than the CT scan. For me it was 40 minutes for the head and the liver scan.

At the end of the procedure the Radiologist produces a report to summaries the findings.  Again, you can ask for a copy of this report.

More info here: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/mri-scan/Pages/Introduction.aspx?url=Pages/What-is-it.aspx

What is a PICC line and what is a portacath?

Many cancer treatments are administered intravenously (IV), which means that the veins in the arms need to be accessed frequently and over a long period of time.

This can be quite difficult, as many cancer patients have veins that are damaged therefore difficult to access.


  • Because, intravenous chemotherapy causes lasting damage to the veins. The walls of the veins become hard (like wires running through your body) and the smaller veins tend to pop when attempting to access it.
  • Also, if you had lymph nodes removed from your arm as part of your mastectomy, then that arm should no longer be used to take blood. This is to avoid infection.

To overcome these issues a semi-permanent access point is created in a form of a PICC line or a portacath.

PICC line

PICC stands for Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter.  It’s a long, thin, hollow tube thatPICC-line a specialist inserts into a vein through the inside of your upper arm. The tube is fed into the vein through the upper arm and shoulder, until the tip is in the upper chest.

The procedure itself is a little uncomfortable, but not painful.

The catheter is held in place by a dressing, that is changed regularly.  This is the point where the treatment is administered.

It takes time getting used to sleeping with it, and you have to use a protective sleeve over it when you shower.


Portacath is an implantable port. It is inserted by a surgeon under local anaesthetic orportacath sedation.  Don’t worry you will be asleep from sedation, I was.

The catheter goes into a large vein in the chest with the port (the end of the catheter) positioned under the skin in the chest.

The port is the point where treatment is administered.

I find the portacath much easier to live with than the PICC line as I don’t need to worry about it, and can go swimming. It is designed for treatment spreading over years, rather than months.


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