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Imaging Services

Imaging services are essential to diagnosis. At El Camino Health, our highly trained experts use the latest equipment and technology to help identify problems quickly.

Doctors use imaging tests to diagnose conditions and monitor how well treatments are working. They also use a process called interventional radiology to deliver treatments such as angioplasty, radiofrequency ablation and placement of stents.

At El Camino Health, our expert imaging team uses advanced imaging equipment and technology that put us in league with the nation’s best hospitals. For example, our Breast Health Center uses state-of-the-art 3D digital mammography and computer-aided detection (CAD) that give radiologists even better tools for finding breast abnormalities.

All our imaging equipment is accredited by the American College of Radiology and our radiologists are certified by the American Board of Radiology. We’re dedicated to performing your test quickly and efficiently, while ensuring your comfort at all times.

For more information, read answers to frequently asked questions about imaging at El Camino Health.

Imaging Services

Our highly trained team provides these services:

Computed Tomography (CT)

CT scans combine X-rays with computer technology to produce highly detailed images of various parts of the body, including bones, muscles and organs. Images produced by CT scans are also used to evaluate how treatments for various conditions are progressing.

During a CT scan, multiple X-ray beams and electronic detectors rotate around you, taking cross-sectional images, called “slices,” that are combined to create the final images.

At El Camino Health, we use the newest generation of CT equipment. That includes the Siemens Dual Source scanner, which uses two X-ray sources for split-second scanning, and the Siemens Single Source scanner, which simultaneously scans several slices to significantly reduce scanning time. These powerful machines generate more data, with more precise detail, more quickly than less sophisticated scanners.

At our Mountain View campus, new software allows CT scanning to be performed with significantly less radiation exposure. SAFIRE (Sinogram Affirmed Iterative Reconstruction) technology allows a wide range of these tests to be done at up to 60 percent less radiation than traditional CT scans, without compromising image quality. This reduced exposure is a great benefit in terms of limiting the risk for future cancers from excess radiation, especially for children and those who need multiple CT scans.

In some instances, CT scans are performed with a contrast solution (dye) — a substance that’s taken by mouth or injected into an intravenous (IV) line. The contrast solution circulates through the organ or tissue being studied to provide more detailed image of the area.

CT scans, which usually take about 30 minutes, require you to lie very still on an examination table that moves through the CT machine. After one quick pass to determine the correct positioning, the table will move slowly through the scanner for the actual scan. Some types of scans require several passes.

Doctors perform CT scans for many reasons, such as to:

  • View injuries from a trauma.
  • Diagnose symptoms such as difficulty breathing, or chest or abdominal pain.
  • Evaluate someone with stroke symptoms.
  • Check for certain types of cancer or to help plan and administer radiation treatments.
  • Guide minimally invasive procedures, such as taking tissue samples testing.
  • Examine heart vessels for signs of disease.
  • Screen for heart disease and lung cancer in people who may be at greater risk.

CT images can be viewed on a computer monitor, and images are easily sent to other specialists or locations.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Magnetic resonance imaging uses a large magnet, radio waves and a computer to produce detailed images of the body’s internal structures. At El Camino Health, our MRI scanners:

  • Produce high-resolution images that provide excellent detail.
  • Are able to show large areas of the body at one time, instead of in several smaller images.
  • Can accommodate large people comfortably.
  • Produce images faster than less advanced MRI machines, so tests can be completed more quickly.

During an MRI, you’ll lie very still in a large, tube-shaped machine that creates a strong magnetic field. This field, along with radio waves produced by the MRI machine, works with your body’s own natural magnetic properties to create signals that a computer translates into images. In some cases, the scan is performed using a contrast solution (dye) to provide a more detailed picture of internal structures. The die is injected through an intravenous (IV) line.

Doctors use MRIs to diagnose many conditions, including:

  • Injuries or abnormalities of bones or joints.
  • Tumors and other problems in the brain or spinal cord.
  • Endometriosis, fibroids and other causes of pelvic pain in women.
  • Some types of heart problems.
  • Diseases involving abdominal organs.
  • New cancers and those that have spread to distant parts of the body.
  • Breast cancer after a problem area is found in a screening mammogram.
  • Prostate cancer, in which case it’s combined with Artemis 3-D imaging and navigation technology.

Because MRI technology creates a magnetic field, metal devices and implants — such as pacemakers or artificial joints — can cause problems during an MRI. It’s important to tell your doctor if you have any of these or any other metal items in your body before you have this test.

MRIs are painless and there are no known risks from the temporary exposure to the magnetic fields they produce. Since MRI doesn’t use radiation, radiation exposure isn’t an issue. However, some people feel claustrophobic during the exam or are bothered by the loud noises — imaging technologists can provide you with earplugs or a sedative to make you more comfortable during the exam.

Nuclear Medicine

Nuclear medicine is used to study the function of an organ or tissue along with its structure. During nuclear medicine tests, a small amount of radioactive material, called a radiotracer, is used to identify areas in your body that have higher levels of chemical activity. This activity shows up as a bright spot, or “hot spot,” on the nuclear scan and can indicate disease in an organ or tissue. Nuclear medicine can help find these problems in their earliest stages.

Nuclear medicine tests are performed on many organs and tissues. Some parts of the process differ with each location; however, all tests follow the same basic steps:

  • You’ll be given the radiotracer by mouth, injection or inhalation, depending on the specific test. The radiotracer requires time to accumulate, which can take anywhere from an hour or two to several days, depending on the area being examined. In these cases, you’ll return to the hospital at an appointed time.
  • After the radiotracer accumulates, you’ll lie on an examination table that slides into a circular, donut-shaped device. Special cameras, placed above and below the table, detect the radioactive emissions from the radiotracer.
  • A computer uses this information to create images of the specific area. A radiologist examines the test results and sends a report to your doctor.

Most people who have nuclear medicine tests go home the same day. Doctors often use these tests to find cancer, determine if it has spread and to plan cancer treatments. Nuclear medicine is also used to examine many body areas, including the:

  • Heart – To identify abnormal blood flow, measure heart function, determine the extent of damage after a heart attack and evaluate other heart conditions.
  • Brain – To investigate problems such as seizures, abnormal blood flow, brain tumor recurrence and Parkinson’s disease.
  • Bones – To evaluate fractures, tumors, arthritis, infections and other problems.
  • Lungs – To look for blood-flow problems, assess lung function and monitor lung transplants.
  • Abdomen – To check for bleeding in the bowel, abnormalities of the gallbladder, stomach and other abdominal organs.
  • Thyroid – To measure function, determine an overactive or underactive thyroid or other condition, and to treat thyroid cancer.

Nuclear medicine images are sometimes combined with CT scans in a process called SPECT-CT. This produces a fusion of the two images that can provide more precise information than either test alone.

Positron Emission Tomography (PET)

Positron emission tomography, combines the principles of nuclear medicine with computer technology to find “hot spots” that can indicate areas of disease. Like other tests of this kind, it helps show how tissues and organs are functioning as well as their structures.

Your PET scan will follow these steps:

  • You’ll be given the radiotracer by mouth, injection or inhalation, depending on the specific test, and you’ll wait while the radiotracer accumulates in the area to be examined — usually about an hour.
  • You’ll lie on a narrow table that slides into the scanner, which is shaped like a short tunnel. It’s important to stay very still while the scanner detects signals from the tracer.
  • A computer translates the signals into 3-D images. A radiologist examines them and sends a report to your doctor.

PET scans are often used in conjunction with CT scans or other imaging tests to get more information about a specific organ or tissue area. When PET is combined with CT in one scan, it is known as PET/CT.

Doctors may recommend a PET scan to:

  • Determine if cancer has spread or recurred, or to evaluate the progress of cancer treatments.
  • Evaluate the brain after trauma.
  • Diagnose dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Diagnose neurologic conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or epilepsy.
  • Evaluate the blood flow in the heart.
  • Evaluate brain tumors.


Ultrasound exams use sound waves to create images of internal structures such as muscles, blood vessels and organs. During the exam, an instrument called a transducer sends out ultrasonic sound waves at a frequency too high to be heard. These waves bounce off internal structures like an echo. The transducer picks up reflected sound waves and a computer converts them into an image.

This technology lets doctors visualize real-time functioning of internal organs. At El Camino Health, technologists can use a special type of ultrasound technology, called Doppler ultrasound, to evaluate blood flow.

The exact process of your ultrasound will vary depending on the area being examined, but all exam follow a general sequence:

  • The technologist positions you for the exam and applies a water-based gel to your skin, which allows the transducer to slide smoothly.
  • The technologist presses the transducer against your skin and moves it over the area, changing angle and direction to achieve the best image.
  • The image appears on a monitor and can be recorded and sent to your doctor or other specialists.

Ultrasound is used to diagnose and monitor a wide range of conditions in various specialties, including:

  • Mother-baby health – To monitor the development of the fetus.
  • Heart health – To evaluate blood flow through the chambers and valves of the heart.
  • Orthopedic health – To examine joints and muscles after injuries or to find the reason for pain or other symptoms.
  • Surgery – To help guide the surgeon with a biopsy or with a minimally invasive procedure.
  • Women’s health – To diagnose problems of the uterus, ovaries and other pelvic organs, and to examine a problem area found by a mammogram.
  • Men’s health – To examine the prostate gland if problems are found during a physical exam. We use Artemis™ 3D Imaging ultrasound technology that greatly enhances your doctor’s ability to examine suspicious areas and take samples for biopsy.

X-ray or Radiography

X-rays create two-dimensional images of the inside of your body by sending a type of radiation through the area being examined. This produces an image that shows internal structures in shades of gray, black and white.

X-ray machines are very versatile and can be maneuvered to take pictures from various angles. You may stand, sit in a chair or lie on a table, depending on the part of your body being viewed.

Some types of X-rays work better with a contrast medium that provides a more detailed image. For this type of exam, you may be asked to take a substance, such as iodine or barium, by mouth or by an enema. X-rays typically take about 15 minutes to perform, but the exam may take longer if a contrast medium is used.

Doctors use X-rays to check for:

X-rays use only a small amount of radiation. However, your technician may ask you to wear a lead apron to protect certain parts of your body during the exam. Please notify your technician before X-rays are taken if there’s a chance you may be pregnant.

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