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Computed axial tomography
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Computed axial tomography

Computed axial tomography (CAT), computer-assisted tomography, computed tomography, CT, or body section roentgenography) is the process of using digital processing to generate a three-dimensional image of the internals of an object from a series of two-dimensional x-ray axial images. The individual x-ray axial slice images are taken using a x-ray tube that rotates around the object taking many scans as the object is gradually passed through the gantry. The multiple scans from each 360 degree sweep are then processed to produce a single cross-section. The word "tomography" is derived from the Greek tomos (slice) and graphia (describing).

It is used in medicine as a diagnostic tool and as a guide for interventional procedures. Sometimes contrast materials such as barium (administered orally or rectally) or intravenous iodinated contrast are used. This is useful to highlight structures such as vessels or intestines that otherwise would be difficult to delineate from their surroundings. Using contrast material can also help to obtain functional information about tissues. See diagnostic uses of a CT scan for more detail.

Although most common in healthcare, CT is also used in other fields, e.g. nondestructive materials testing.

The system was invented in 1972 by Godfrey Newbold Hounsfield of EMI Laboratories using x-rays. Allan McLeod Cormack of Tufts University independently invented the same process and they shared a Nobel Prize in medicine in 1979. The first scanner took several hours to acquire the raw data and several days to produce the images. Modern multi-detector CT systems can complete a scan of the chest in less time than it takes for a single breath (useful if the patient cannot hold his/her breath) and display the computed images in a few seconds.

Pixels in an image obtained by CT scanning are displayed in terms of relative brightness. The pixel itself is displayed according to the mean attenuation of the tissue that it corresponds to on a scale from -1024 to +3071 on the Hounsfield scale. Water has an attenuation of 0 Hounsfield units (HU) while air is -1000HU, bone is typically +400HU or greater and metallic implants are usually +1000HU.

Improvements in CT technology have meant that the overall radiation dose has decreased, scan times have decreased and the ability to recalculate images (for example, to look at the same location from a different angle) has increased over time. Still, the radiation dose from CT scans is several times higher than conventional X-ray scans.

In 2003, the cost of an average CT scanner was 1.3 million dollars.

See also

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