Common Indications for Thoracic Imaging

Chest x-rays are the most common radiology test performed today.  While some chest x-rays are performed for screening purposes, such as pre-operative clearance, many chest x-rays are performed in response to patient symptoms like cough, fever, or pain. Chest x-ray is an excellent first imaging test to assess for pneumonia, pulmonary edema, or pleural effusion. 

In distinction to chest x-ray, which provides a unique frontal and lateral view of the thorax, Chest CT provides cross-sectional images from the base of the neck through the upper abdomen, which provide much more detailed characterization of the body. A typical ‘routine’ chest CT is used to look at the lungs and airways.  Chest CT with intravenous contrast is used for better evaluation of the mediastinum and blood vessels, in addition to the lungs. CT angiography, a specialized CT exam tailored for evaluation of the blood vessels, is typically performed to assess the pulmonary arteries or the aorta.

Thoracic indications

Thoracic radiologists at NYU are expertly trained to evaluate the diverse spectrum of thoracic diseases. Thoracic radiologists play an integral role in lung cancer screening and management; using the lowest radiation dose necessary, the Thoracic Imaging Division is among the nation’s leaders in characterizing lung nodules, which uncommonly develop into lung cancer. Our thoracic radiologists form an important part of the multi-disciplinary team that treats patients diagnosed with lung cancer, both before and after treatment.

Airway diseases comprise another large group of our patient population. This includes patients with infectious bronchitis, as well as those with asthma and chronic obstructive lung disease, known as COPD, which is typically associated with smoking. Patients with chronic airway disease are sometimes diagnosed with bronchiectasis, which refers to abnormally dilated airways.

Our imaging group also sees a high volume of patients with interstitial lung disease, a general term used to describe diseases affecting the lung interstitium, or the normal tissues which form and surround the lung alveoli (or air sacs). This group of diseases may be related to inhaled substances (like asbestos, or other air particulates), autoimmune diseases (such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis), or idiopathic diseases like sarcoidosis. Pneumonia and other infection is another common indication for chest x-ray or chest CT. If an area of pneumonia is suspected, follow-up imaging is frequently recommended after treatment to ensure infection has resolved.