Imaging technician assisting patient

Positron Emission Tomography (PET)

We understand the importance of knowing how your body is functioning. With PET scans, our doctors can evaluate a wide range of conditions that other scans can’t, including brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and a variety of cancers. These scans allow our doctors to provide more accurate diagnoses, targeted treatments and better outcomes for our patients.

A positron-emission tomography scan, or PET scan for short, is a nuclear imaging procedure that uses a combination of computer technology and a radioactive imaging agent called a tracer to produce clear, high-resolution images of the body and its various functions in real-time and in 3-D.

PET scans are valuable in treating different forms of cancer because the radioactive tracer is usually bonded with sugar. The radioactive sugar collects in cancer cells, which will show up on images and can help in cancer diagnosis and staging.

A PET scan is often done in combination with a CT scan and may be useful in evaluating whether cancer has spread to other organs such as the liver or lung. CT, computed tomography, scans produce images of the body’s anatomy or structure. Combining the two allows for a very sophisticated piece of equipment that provides physicians with a powerful tool for the detection and diagnosis of diseases, such as cancer, earlier and more accurately, improving a patient’s chances for a good outcome.

PET-CT scans allow your doctor to pinpoint afflictions and conditions related to cancer, heart disease and brain disorders. PET-CT offers many benefits:

  • Because PET and CT scans are performed simultaneously, it provides precise correlation of cellular function with anatomical information.
  • Definitive diagnosis is achieved sooner, allowing for quicker treatment. It provides precise staging of disease and better monitoring of recurrences. Invasive surgery to determine whether a tumor exists may be avoided.
  • PET-CT can be used for treatment planning for Radiation Therapy.

Before the scan, you will receive a dosage of the radioactive tracer through an IV. The tracer contains glucose in order to image how the body is metabolizing sugar. It is important to not eat carbohydrates or foods containing sugar at least 24 hours prior to your scan. Once you’ve received the tracer, you will be asked to wait at least an hour in order to let your body absorb it.

During the scan, you lie on a moving bed that enters through the PET scanning machine, similar to a CT or MRI scan. The scanning machine looks like a small tunnel that wraps itself around your entire body. The tunnel delivers and picks up low-dosage radiation to image the different organs in your body.

The PET scanning machine then sends the information received to a computer controlled by a radiologist and located in a separate room. The computer processes the information to produce the slices and cross-sections for analysis.

Your radiologist monitors you and the PET scanner throughout the entire process. Should you feel uncomfortable or need assistance, a microphone allows you to speak to them at all times.

The entire scan takes roughly 20 to 40 minutes.

Your scan results

A radiologist will review the PET-CT images, compare them to previous pertinent films the patient may have had, and interpret what s/he sees. The radiologist will dictate a report, which will be transcribed and sent to your healthcare provider who ordered the exam several days after the exam.  Contact your healthcare provider for your PET-CT exam results.

Routine body scans are used to:

  • Assist physicians in diagnosing many common cancers, including breast, colorectal, esophageal, head and neck, lung, lymphoma, melanoma, ovarian, pancreatic, thyroid and muskuloskeletal tumors
  • Identify where the cancer is in the body
  • Determine if the cancer has spread
  • Evaluate treatment

Brain scans are used to:

  • Differentiate recurring brain tumors from healthy tissue for targeted radiation therapy
  • Before surgery for some seizure disorders
  • Differentiate Alzheimer's disease from dementia that is caused by multiple mini-strokes

PET-CT bone scans are used to:

  • Evaluate bones for abnormalities like bony lesions and tumors
  • Evaluate post operative fusion patients

PET scans are a type of nuclear imaging test, which means a small amount of radiation exposure is common. Because the exposure is minimal, the test itself is a proven method for safe imaging. Any complications that may occur during the procedure relate to how the radioactive agent is injected. These complications can include minor bleeding or swelling at the injection site and often do not occur.

You can eat and drink normally after the exam and resume normal activities, but should maintain distance from pregnant women and small children for six hours following the appointment.