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Computed Tomography (CT) Scans

Computed tomography (CT) is a computerized x-ray system that creates 3-D images of the inside of the body. A CT scanner is often used for images of the brain, spine, chest, abdomen, skeletal structures, small bones and surrounding tissues such as muscle and blood vessels. This can help diagnose  cancers, spinal problems, injuries to hands and feet and other conditions.

A CT scanner is a large doughnut-shaped machine that sends x-ray pulses through the body to take a picture of an organ or body area.

1. How to prepare

CT scanner
A scan can take a few minutes or up to an hour.
  • Bring your health card with you.
  • If for some reason you cannot make your appointment, inform the CT department as soon as possible.
  • Wear loose, comfortable clothing with minimal snaps or zippers (they will have to be removed).
  • Inform your physician and the technologists if you are, or think you may be, pregnant.
  • Arrive at the hospital admitting department 30 minutes before your exam.

Preparation for your exam may be different, depending on the type of exam that you will have. Follow the specific instructions given by the department where you will be having your exam.

If you have questions that can't be answered by your care provider, this website or the Saskatchewan Health Authority website, try contacting the hospital department where you'll be having your exam, or the local Quality of Care Coordinator.

There are now a total of 16 scanners accessible to residents of Saskatchewan, 15 permanent, hospital-based CT suites and one community-based provider of CT services.


2. Risks

Ensure that your scan is the most appropriate scan to investigate your condition. Your care provider has access to published guidelines (see below in Related Items) that suggest which type of test is most appropriate for your condition. Ask to see these guidelines to ensure the test that is ordered for you is the most appropriate for your condition.

Talk to your doctor, nurse practitioner or a radiology team member before your procedure:
  • If x-ray dye is needed for your exam and you have a sensitivity. The iodine in the dye may cause an allergic reaction. 
  • If you suffer from severe claustrophobia, you may feel uncomfortable about the tight space in the CT machine’s tunnel. 
  • CT scans produce much more radiation than ordinary x-rays. 
  • The radiation from one CT chest exam is about the same as getting 400 simultaneous chest X-rays. 
  • The radiation dose produced by diagnostic imaging tests varies depending on the size of the patient and the body part scanned. 
  • In general, the younger you are when you are exposed to radiation, the greater the risk of cancer over your lifetime. The risk of an adult developing cancer from a CT scan is less than 1 in 1,000. The risk of a child developing cancer from the same CT scan can be much higher.

CT exams are highly advanced diagnostic tools, capable of diagnosing many different conditions. In most cases, the benefits of a CT scan outweigh the significant risks associated with the amount of radiation you receive from some exams. However, if you are not provided the most appropriate test the first time, the risks increase.

Not all diagnostic imaging exams use radiation. For example, ultrasound and MRI procedures do not use radiation.

3. Wait Times

Find the wait times patients have recently experienced, and information about wait time targets in Saskatchewan: Medical Imaging Wait Times.

As a patient, you should discuss with your physician if you are concerned about the length of your wait time. If there are any changes to your condition, ask that your ordering physician consult with a radiologist. 

The ultimate responsibility for prioritization rests with the attending radiologist after consultation with the referring physician.


4. What to expect

CT scanner in a Saskatchewan hospital.The technologist will ask you to lie still on the table. Once you lie down, the automated table will move you slowly through the tunnel while the machine takes pictures. One pass through the tunnel results in multiple pictures, or slices, of the area being scanned.  If contrast media (x-ray dye) is needed for your exam, it will be inserted through an intravenous tube (IV) into your hand or arm, or given orally.

The entire process can take a few minutes to an hour, depending on the complexity of your exam.

Photo: a 160-slice CT scanner in a Saskatchewan hospital.

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