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For 50 years, CT scans have saved lives, revealed beauty and more

One grainy, gray-scale image of a brain changed science and medicine forever.

Half a century ago, the first CT image of a patient lifted the veil of invisibility that cloaks the interior of the human body, providing scientists a window on our innards unlike any before.

Today, doctors in the United States alone order more than 80 million scans per year. X-ray computed tomography, or CT, is frequently the quickest way of getting a handle on what’s causing a mysterious woe. CT scans can ferret out heart disease, tumors, blood clots, fractures, internal bleeding and more. The technique can give surgeons a heads-up about what they will encounter inside a patient, and guide treatment for cancer and other diseases.

“It answers so many questions quickly. That’s why it’s used,” says medical physicist Cynthia McCollough of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

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