To Dye or Not

Last week, I underwent a three-month scan for cancer. I am still cancer free, so let’s get that out of the way. I’m so cancer free that I started thinking about those with kidney cancer who have scans. That’s when I started asking questions about this procedure that I’ve already undergone what seems like a million times. My questions, while answered by the technicians, of course led me to other questions. Here are the answers. 

Let’s start at the beginning. Do we use CT or CAT Scan when referring to this kind of test? According to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center’s Blog at https://bit.ly/3lKrkjP:  

“… CAT and CT scans both mean the same type of diagnostic examination. CAT was used earlier in its history, while CT is the recent up-to-date term for convenience sake. The term CT stands for computed tomography and the term CAT stands for computed axial tomography or computerized axial tomography scan.” 

Huh? I get ‘computed,’ but what’s ‘tomography’? On to my favorite dictionary of all time. You guessed it; The Merriam-Webster Dictionary at https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tomography tells us, it’s: 

“a method of producing a three-dimensional image of the internal structures of a solid object (such as the human body or the earth) by the observation and recording of the differences in the effects on the passage of waves of energy impinging on those structures” 

Ah, that makes sense. Now what about this iodine dye that we, as Chronic Kidney Disease patients, are not supposed to have? I went to Inside Radiology at https://www.insideradiology.com.au/iodine-containing-contrast-medium/ for information. 

“Iodine-containing contrast medium (ICCM), sometimes called contrast or contrast medium, is a chemical substance used in medical X-ray imaging [Gail here: CT is a sort of X-ray.]. When injected into the body, ICCM shows what is happening inside the hollow parts of the body (like blood vessels, the stomach, bowel or even the fluid around the spinal cord) on X-ray images or pictures. When injected into a blood vessel, which can be either an artery or a vein, it not only shows the inside of the blood vessel, but it can give information about how the organs supplied by that blood vessel are working. Good examples of this are the kidneys, brain and lungs.” 

I still have my port from chemotherapy, so that was used to inject the iodine dye. Reminder, 

“A chemo port is a small, implantable reservoir with a thin silicone tube that attaches to a vein. The main advantage of this vein-access device is that chemotherapy medications can be delivered directly into the port rather than a vein, eliminating the need for needle sticks.” 

Thank you, Moffit Cancer Center, at https://moffitt.org/treatments/chemotherapy/what-is-a-chemo-port/ for this information. It’s pretty clear ports can also be used for the dye, blood draws, and infusions of any kind. For example, I’m receiving iron infusion once a week via my port. 

I know the big question here is why am I having contrast dye when it’s not recommended for CKD patients. Let’s take a closer look at that warning.

“’The historical fears of kidney injury from contrast-enhanced CT have led to unmeasured harms related to diagnostic error and diagnostic,’ explained lead author Matthew S. Davenport, MD, associate professor of radiology and urology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan. ‘Modern data clarify that this perceived risk has been overstated….’” 

The above statement is from U.S. Pharmacist at https://www.uspharmacist.com/article/risk-of-contrast-media-in-reduced-kidney-function-patients-overstated

I’m comfortable with iodine contrast. First, it was clear that cancer took precedence over my kidney health, but now I’m not worried about it because of the overstatements. 

After the CT, saline was infused into my port. Wolf Medical Supply at https://bit.ly/3gjx8Q6 did a great job of explaining what this is and how it’s preformed in layman’s terms: 

“A saline flush is used to help prevent IV catheters from becoming blocked and to help remove any medication that may be left at the catheter site. 

A saline flush is a sterile mix of salt and water that is compatible with your body’s fluids and tissues. Typically, the healthcare provider will fill a syringe using a bottle of normal saline solution or use a prefilled flush syringe that’s been prepared under sterile conditions. 

To flush the IV, first, clean the IV port or hub, then connect an IV saline flush syringe to the port, slowly pull back on the syringe plunger, inject the saline solution into the IV line, and then start the medication drip. Before beginning another infusion, your provider will flush the line again.” 

We’re not done yet, though. Next came a heparin flush. Does the word ‘heparin’ sound familiar?  According to Drugs.com at https://bit.ly/3qvmGcW,   

“Heparin is an anticoagulant (blood thinner) that prevents the formation of blood clots. Heparin is used to treat and prevent blood clots caused by certain medical conditions or medical procedures. It is also used before surgery to reduce the risk of blood clots.” 

I didn’t understand why I needed heparin after a CT. WebMD at https://bit.ly/3mUeCjK explained: 

“This medication is used to keep IV catheters open and flowing freely. Heparin helps to keep blood flowing smoothly and from clotting in the catheter by making a certain natural substance in your body (anti-clotting protein) work better….” 

While I understood the CT process now, and hope that you do, too, there are warnings in place. For example,  

“Patients with kidney failure or other kidney problems should notify their doctor. In some cases, the contrast media can cause kidney failure, especially in patients with underlying kidney problems or dehydration. Patients taking the diabetes medication metformin (Glucophage), or its derivatives, who receive contrast are at increased risk of developing a condition called metabolic acidosis, or an unsafe change in blood pH, and the drug may be halted for 48 hours after the procedure.” 

The above is also from WebMD, but this time at https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-60428/heparin-lock-intravenous/details.  

I take the warning to mean speak with your nephrologist first. Although, your case may be like mine was: cancer first, then kidneys, especially if it’s kidney cancer. But we always speak with our nephrologists first, don’t we?  

Until next week, 

Keep living your life!

The Dye is Cast

Bet you think I made a spelling error in the title. If you’re thinking of the original phrase, you’re right. In that one, it’s spelled ‘die’. Here’s where it came from according to Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alea_iacta_est:

Alea iacta est (‘The die has been cast’) is a variation of a Latin phrase (iacta alea est [ˈjakta ˈaːlɛ.a ˈɛst]) attributed by Suetonius to Julius Caesar on January 10, 49 BCE, as he led his army across the Rubicon river in Northern Italy…. The phrase, either in the original Latin or in translation, is used in many languages to indicate that events have passed a point of no return. It is now most commonly cited with the word order changed (‘Alea iacta est’) rather than in the original phrasing….”

Uh-oh, there is in existence a phrase just like the title of today’s blog. It means the tint has been applied and can’t be changed or something like that.That this phrase with this spelling exists was a bit surprising. What I meant in the title is the dye used in contrast CTs.

Let’s back up just a bit so we can explain what a CT is. The Mayo Clinic at https://mayocl.in/3jujqdk tells us:

A computerized tomography (CT) scan combines a series of X-ray images taken from different angles around your body and uses computer processing to create cross-sectional images (slices) of the bones, blood vessels and soft tissues inside your body. CT scan images provide more-detailed information than plain X-rays do.”

I’ll be having one with contrast this afternoon. You know we, as CKD patients, have been warned not to allow that contrast into our bodies. Let’s find out why and then I’ll tell you why I am allowing it. The contrast is the dye in the title of today’s blog.

“In a CT scan, dense substances like bones are easy to see. But soft tissues don’t show up as well. They may look faint in the image. To help them appear clearly, you may need a special dye called a contrast material. They block the X-rays and appear white on the scan, highlighting blood vessels, organs, or other structures.Contrast materials are usually made of iodine or barium sulfate. You might receive these drugs in one or more of three ways:

  • Injection: The drugs are injected directly into a vein. This is done to help your blood vessels, urinary tract, liver, or gallbladder stand out in the image.
  • Orally: Drinking a liquid with the contrast material can enhance scans of your digestive tract, the pathway of food through your body.
  • Enema: If your intestines are being scanned, the contrast material can be inserted in your rectum.

After the CT scan, you’ll need to drink plenty of fluids to help your kidneys remove the contrast material from your body.”Thank you, WebMD at https://www.webmd.com/cancer/what-is-a-ct-scan#2 for the above information.

Of course, now we need to know why we shouldn’t be having this contrast material. Radiology Affiliates Imagining at https://4rai.com/blog/can-contrast-hurt-my-kidneys, a new site for me but one that seems very thorough, explains that we just don’t know for sure:

“…. Unhealthy kidneys, though, may be slower and less efficient when it comes to clearing the contrast from the blood. While the medical community has not yet determined exactly how contrast dye causes kidney problems, they think it has to do with this slow clearance of the dyes from the body.”

Well, what problems can contrast dye cause for our kidneys? I went right to the National Kidney Foundation at https://bit.ly/2YL7RXv  for an answer to this question

“What is Contrast Induced Nephropathy (CIN)?

CIN is a rare disorder and occurs when kidney problems are caused by the use of certain contrast dyes. In most cases contrast dyes used in tests, such as CT (computerized tomography) and angiograms, have no reported problems. About 2 percent of people receiving dyes can develop CIN. However, the risk for CIN can increase for people with diabetes, a history of heart and blood diseases, and chronic kidney disease (CKD)….The risk of CIN in people with both CKD and diabetes is 20 to 50 percent.

CIN is associated with a sharp decrease in kidney function over a period of 48-72 hours. The symptoms can be similar to those of kidney disease, which include feeling more tired, poor appetite, swelling in the feet and ankles, puffiness around the eyes, or dry and itchy skin. In many cases, CIN is reversible and people can recover. However, in some cases, CIN can lead to more serious kidney problems and possible heart and blood vessel problems

What is Nephrogenic Systemic Fibrosis (NSF)?

NSF is a rare but serious disease affecting skin and other organs that has been found in some patients with advanced CKD after exposure to gadolinium-containing contrast dyes that are used in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). NSF appears to affect about 4 percent of patients with advanced CKD. People with acute kidney injury (AKI) are also at higher risk. NSF has not been reported in people with mild kidney damage or normal kidney function.

NSF can be painful, debilitating, or even fatal. Symptoms and signs of NSF can include burning and itching of the skin, red or dark patches on the skin, joint stiffness, or muscle weakness. The disease can develop within 24 hours up to around 3 months….  delay in excretion [of this drug] is thought to be one the main reasons why NSF may happen.”

Notice that both possible effects of using contrast dye with kidney disease are rare.

So why am I having the contrast dye when I’ve been advised not to? My oncology team needs to see if the cancer has returned and, if it has, how badly. I told them at the beginning of my treatment to spare my kidneys as much as possible. But, in this case, I don’t want them to spare my kidneys so much that I end up dead of cancer.

There are two kinds of dye used, one less harmful to the kidneys than the other. I believe that’s the one that is used on me. It is also reduced in order to save me from any possible further kidney damage. Most importantly, my creatinine level is measured before administering the contrast dye. After a year and a half of this, my kidneys are doing just as well as they were doing before I started allowing contrast dye.

This is my story; remember, everyone is different and talk this over with your nephrologist before you agree to contrast dye. My nephrologist and I agreed that I needed to be alive more than I needed to save my kidneys.

Until next week,

Keep living your life!