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First trimester screening is a prenatal test that offers early information about a baby's risk of certain chromosomal conditions — Down syndrome (trisomy 21) and Edwards syndrome (trisomy 18).

First trimester screening has two steps:

  • A blood test to measure levels of two pregnancy-specific substances in the mother's blood — pregnancy-associated plasma protein-A and human chorionic gonadotropin
  • An ultrasound exam to measure the size of the clear space in the tissue at the back of the baby's neck (nuchal translucency)

Typically, first trimester screening is done between weeks 11 and 14 of pregnancy — although a form of the screening can be done as early as nine weeks.

Using your age and the results of the blood test and the ultrasound, your health care provider can gauge your risk of carrying a baby who has Down syndrome or Edwards syndrome.

If your risk level is low, first trimester screening can offer reassurance of a healthy pregnancy.

If your risk level is moderate or high, you might choose to follow first trimester screening with another test that's more definitive.

Heart scans, also known as coronary calcium scans, provide pictures of your heart's arteries (coronary arteries). Doctors use heart scans to look for calcium deposits in the coronary arteries that can narrow your arteries and increase your heart attack risk. The result of this test is often called a coronary calcium score.

Heart scans can show that you may have a higher risk of having a heart attack or other problems before you have any obvious symptoms of heart disease. Heart scans aren't for everyone, though. While some walk-in medical facilities advertise that you can walk in for a quick check of your coronary arteries, be cautious of these offers.

The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology don't recommend routine use of heart scans on people who don't have symptoms of heart disease and who don't smoke or have cardiac risk factors, such as elevated cholesterol or high blood pressure.

An intravenous pyelogram (PIE-uh-loh-gram), also called an excretory urogram, is an X-ray exam of your urinary tract. An intravenous pyelogram lets your doctor view your kidneys, your bladder and the tubes that carry urine from your kidneys to your bladder (ureters). An intravenous pyelogram may be used to diagnose disorders that affect the urinary tract, such as kidney stones, bladder stones, enlarged prostate, kidney cysts or urinary tract tumors.

During an intravenous pyelogram, you'll have an X-ray dye (iodine contrast solution) injected into a vein in your arm. The dye flows into your kidneys, ureters and bladder, outlining each of these structures. X-ray pictures are taken at specific times during the exam, so your doctor can clearly see your urinary tract and assess how well it's working.

Lung cancer screening is a test to look for signs of lung cancer in otherwise healthy people. Lung cancer screening is recommended for older adults who are longtime smokers.

Doctors use a low-dose computerized tomography (CT) scan of the lungs to look for lung cancer. If lung cancer is detected at a very early stage, it may be more likely to be cured.

Discuss the benefits and risks of lung cancer screening with your doctor. Together you can review your risk of lung cancer and decide whether screening is right for you.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a technique that uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed images of the organs and tissues within your body.

Most MRI machines are large, tube-shaped magnets. When you lie inside an MRI machine, the magnetic field temporarily realigns hydrogen atoms in your body. Radio waves cause these aligned atoms to produce very faint signals, which are used to create cross-sectional MRI images — like slices in a loaf of bread.

The MRI machine can also be used to produce 3-D images that may be viewed from many different angles.

Magnetic resonance elastography (MRE) is a new way to image the body. It works by combining MRI imaging with sound waves to create a visual map (elastogram) showing the stiffness of body tissues.

MRE is used to detect hardening of the liver caused by many kinds of chronic liver disease. MRE also has potential as a noninvasive way to diagnose diseases in other parts of the body.

MRE was invented at Mayo Clinic. The test is available there and at various other centers. It's usually done as part of a conventional MRI exam.

A mammogram is an X-ray image of your breast used to screen for breast cancer. Mammograms play a key role in early breast cancer detection and help decrease breast cancer deaths.

During a mammogram, your breasts are compressed between two firm surfaces to spread out the breast tissue. Then an X-ray captures black-and-white images of your breasts that are displayed on a computer screen and examined by a doctor who looks for signs of cancer.

A mammogram can be used either for screening or for diagnostic purposes. How often you should have a mammogram depends on your age and your risk of breast cancer.

A positron emission tomography (PET) scan is an imaging test that helps reveal how your tissues and organs are functioning. A PET scan uses a radioactive drug (tracer) to show this activity.

The tracer may be injected, swallowed or inhaled, depending on which organ or tissue is being studied by the PET scan. The tracer collects in areas of your body that have higher levels of chemical activity, which often correspond to areas of disease. On a PET scan, these areas show up as bright spots.

A PET scan is useful in revealing or evaluating several conditions, including some cancers, heart disease and brain disorders.

Diagnostic ultrasound, also called sonography or diagnostic medical sonography, is an imaging method that uses high-frequency sound waves to produce images of structures within your body. The images can provide valuable information for diagnosing and treating a variety of diseases and conditions.

Most ultrasound examinations are done using a sonar device outside your body, though some ultrasound examinations involve placing a device inside your body.

Virtual colonoscopy is a minimally invasive exam to screen for cancer of the large intestine (colon). Virtual colonoscopy requires the same pre-test bowel preparation as colonoscopy. But virtual colonoscopy doesn’t require sedation or inserting a scope into the colon.

During virtual colonoscopy, a CT scan produces hundreds of cross-sectional images of your abdominal organs. The images are combined and digitally manipulated to provide a detailed view of the inside of the colon and rectum.

Virtual colonoscopy is an alternative to colonoscopy, but the new test doesn't mean you'll never have another colonoscopy. If virtual colonoscopy shows abnormalities in your colon, your doctor will typically recommend colonoscopy to learn more.