CT scan of the neck is a common test done to look at the internal structures of the neck. A CT of the neck includes the area between the bottom of the head to the top of the lungs. CT scan of the neck can diagnose many important conditions which can be life threatening.
Indications for CT scan of throat and neck
CT scan of the neck is done for numerous conditions and symptoms related to the neck. Common conditions include:
Neck CT can be done when there is suspected cancer in the neck. CT neck is also done for staging of known cancer and monitoring cancer treatment.
Masses and enlarged lymph nodes in the neck
These can be masses or lymph nodes which are felt by the doctor or patient. These can be findings seen on other imaging studies.
Disorders of the salivary glands
CT neck can identify infections, stones and tumors of the salivary glands.
Foreign bodies in the neck
We can see foreign bodies like swallowed coins or fish bones.
Suspected infections in the neck
Infections can occur throughout the neck. We can also see abscesses which are collections of pus.
Abnormalities of the throat and larynx (voice box)
We can see tumors, infections, and paralysis of the vocal cords.
Abnormalities of the trachea or airway
Abnormalities like masses, inflammation and narrowing can be seen.
Difficulty swallowing and throat pain
Many symptoms that occur in the neck are evaluated with CT of the neck and throat.
How is CT scan of throat and neck done?
CT scan of the neck is done in a CT scanner by a qualified technologist. You will be placed onto a moveable CT table by the technologist. You may have an IV placed if your exam is ordered with contrast.
The technologist will perform the exam from a computer in a nearby room. You will be able to communicate with the technologist. You will be asked to hold your breath to get a clearer picture. The table may make several passes through the scanner. You will hear the CT scanner working.
Is throat and neck CT done with or without contrast?
The test is done with contrast given through a vein when possible. The contrast helps us see structures in the neck and allows us to make a more accurate diagnosis.
What organs does neck CT show?
We can see the thyroid gland, salivary glands, throat, larynx (voice box), oral cavity (mouth), blood vessels like the carotid artery, the nasal passages, the spine, the facial bones, upper part of the chest and lower part of the head.
While we can see many structures, the CT neck exam is focused on the soft tissue structures instead of the bones, blood vessels and surrounding structures.
Are you sedated for CT scan of throat and neck?
Usually not. Sedation may be used when the patient can not cooperate with the exam.
How long does CT scan of throat and neck take?
The exam is fairly quick and usually takes under 20 minutes from the time the IV is placed to obtaining the images.
Does a CT scan hurt?
The placement of the IV for the contrast scan may hurt a bit. The CT scan itself is painless.
How to prepare for CT scan of throat and neck?
Tell the technologist about any allergies and illnesses you have.
Let the technologist know if you are pregnant or there is a possibility of pregnancy.
All metal needs to be removed from the area being scanned since it can distort the images.
You may be asked not to eat or drink before the scan if you are receiving contrast.
What can CT scan of throat and neck diagnose?
CT scan of the throat and neck can diagnose numerous conditions. We can see cancers, infections, abscesses, enlarged lymph nodes, cysts, aneurysms and blockages of blood vessels, abnormalities of the bones like breaks or lesions, swallowed foreign bodies, and airway abnormalities.
Can it detect cancer?
Yes it can. It does not detect all cancers however. Some cancers will require direct visualization by the specialist and are not seen on imaging tests.
Who reads the scan and when will I get my results?
A radiologist will read you neck CT. This is a doctor who specializes in medical imaging.
The results of the test will usually be available in 1-2 days. Exams ordered stat may be available within an hour.
CT scan of throat and neck: summary
CT scan of the neck gives us a detailed look at the anatomy from the bottom of the head to the top of the chest. The test is done for numerous indications as outlined above. CT of the neck can identify many urgent and life threatening conditions which need prompt treatment.