Understanding Prostate Cancer Imaging

Prostate cancer imaging is an evolving field. Ultrasound, bone scan, MRI scan, CT scan, and PET/CT scan are all considered for various reasons. Learn more and find questions to ask your doctor so you know which imaging scans are right for you.


PROSTATE CANCER DETECTION AND DIAGNOSIS Prostate cancer is most often detected with a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test and a digital rectal exam (DRE), and is confirmed by a biopsy. A variety of imaging scans may be used to help your doctor biopsy, diagnose, and stage prostate cancer. Imaging scans can also help determine if and where the cancer has spread , plan treatment, or find out if treatment is working.

Imaging Type

About the Imaging Scan

Ultrasound Bone Scan

• Used to look for suspicious areas in the prostate • Shows prostate cancer that may have spread to bones • Requires other tests to confirm if cancer is in the bones • Used to determine if a biopsy is needed • Guides needles for a biopsy • Can help determine the stage of prostate cancer • Detects prostate cancer in lymph nodes • After a recurrence, can help determine organ involvement • Shows images of prostate cancer that may have spread • Are often less detailed than MRI or CT images • Uses new and advanced imaging agents to detect cancer

Conventional Imaging

MRI Scan

CT Scan


Advanced Imaging

ADVANCED IMAGING AND NEW IMAGING AGENTS All imaging tests have limitations. Some are better at detecting cancer in lymph nodes, some work best if the PSA levels are rising, and others may miss small areas of prostate cancer that have come back or spread. With the discovery of new imaging agents, these pictures of the inside of the body make it easier to see prostate cancer cells, even in small amounts, that have traveled outside the prostate to other places in the body. These advances are improving how a patient’s prognosis, or outcome, is determined, if a treatment is working, and how treatment decisions are made.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

Be sure to talk to your doctor about which scans might be best for you. Here are some questions to get you started: 1. What are the differences between a CT scan, MRI scan, and PET/CT scan? 2. Will I need more than one imaging scan? 3. How long do these scans take and how do I prepare? 4. How often will I need to have scans? 5. What kind of imaging agent will be used? 6. Should I be concerned about side effects from any of the imaging agents? 7. Does my PSA level have to be rising to qualify for any of these imaging scans? 8. What will the results tell me?

CT =Computed Tomography; DRE =Digital Rectal Exam; MRI =Magnetic Resonance Imaging; PET =Positron Emission Tomography; PSA =Prostate-Specific Antigen

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