3 min read

Do I Need a C-Arm or a Cath Lab?

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As if the initial decision to open a surgical center wasn't big enough, those of you entering this territory are about to find yourselves embarking on a series of subsequent big decisions. One of the biggest will be which imaging equipment you choose.

The systems you're likely to need fall into two major categories: Mobile C-arms and cath/angio or interventional labs. The price points, technical features, service costs, and applications for these products are very different from one another, so it's important to have an understanding of what type of usage each is intended for.

C-Arm vs. Cath Lab

These first two sections will be the most important factors in deciding between these two equipment types. Both have strengths in certain procedures and certain settings and it's important to be certain that you have the right tool for the job you intend to do.


There's no contest in this area. In terms of sheer power, the cath lab takes the cake. Current C-arm generators have an output of 7.5kW to 25kW while cath labs can push 100kW.

For longer or more advanced studies that require extended fluoro time, you'll likely need the power of the cath lab. For lighter work, like pain management or basic surgery, a C-arm will do the trick.


Overall, cath labs are more feature-rich than C-arms. Additional post-processing options, table-side controls, and multiple review stations are just a few of the things you'll find on a cath system that you won't on a C-arm. 

Many of these features are intended to help facilitate the longer and/or more advanced work done on cath labs. Once again, if you're performing lighter, more basic studies, these are features that will not be essential for you.


In some cases, C-arms and cath labs overlap in the work they're used for. If the nature of the specialties you plan to pursue doesn't have you leaning in a clear direction by now, the following are factors that could also play a part in your decision.

Logistics Costs

C-arms have a big advantage in this area.These systems are mobile, can plug into a standard 120v outlet, and, depending on your local regulations, don't generally require any fixed lead shielding. Setting up a C-arm usually takes less than an hour.

Depending on the accommodations in your existing space, a cath lab installation could require significant remodeling. Plumbers, electricians, HVAC, and general contractors could all be involved- along with the imaging engineers that will install the lab when the room is ready. Shielding requirements are also more stringent for cath labs. The lab room will most likely need to be lined with leaded drywall. On top of remodeling time, it takes about 2 weeks to install a cath lab.


Depending on several factors (analog vs. digital, system age, model) either of these system types could be more expensive up front (see our C-arm and cath lab price guides), but in terms of ongoing costs, cath labs are all but guaranteed to cost more. A cath lab is simply a larger piece of equipment with more components and moving parts.

If a major part should fail on a cath lab, the replacement cost will be substantially greater. For example, an X-ray tube for a cath lab can cost $40,000 - $60,000 while a C-arm tube averages between $6,000 and $10,000. 

 The Takeaway

Regardless of which fluoroscopy system you choose, we're here to answer your questions and help you make the best pick for your facility's needs. If you'd like to learn more about C-arm or cath lab equipment, contact us to talk to one of our experts or download one of our free eguides to continue researching on your own.

Which C-Arm Is Best for You