PET Scan


PET Provides Real-Life Answers

Accurate diagnosis, staging and prognosis are integral to successful cancer treatment. That's why Piedmont Healthcare offers a full array of state-of-the-art diagnostics, including stationary PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scanners.

PET technology can detect and monitor a patient's cancer by obtaining images of the metabolic physiologic processes, enabling cancer detection earlier than other radiologic technologies. PET technology provides benefits, including:

  • Earlier diagnosis
  • Monitoring of treatment efficiency to show whether a patient is responding to a particular treatment
  • Offers pre-surgical assessments
  • Replaces multiple tests
  • Identifies metastases, or spread of cancer
  • Reduces the need for invasive procedures


What is PET?

PET stands for Positron Emission Tomography, a procedure that detects cellular function changes–how cells utilize nutrients like sugar and oxygen. The changes detected by PET happen before physical changes occur, enabling physicians to make an earlier diagnosis. PET often allows quicker initiation of treatment while avoiding more invasive exams or exploratory surgery. Other imaging technologies, such as CT or MRI, detect changes in the physical size or structure of internal organs, often occurring long after those detected by PET technology.


What happens during a PET scan?

The patient receives a radiopharmaceutical injection and waits for the radiopharmaceutical to distribute itself - typically 30 minutes to an hour. During this time, the patient can read, speak or listen to music until the scan begins. The only exception is for patients whose brains will be scanned; they are asked to wait in a quiet, dimly lit room without stimulating their brains by reading or talking.


What is the scan like?

Patients lie very still on a table that moves slowly through the ring-like PET scanner as it acquires the information it needs to generate diagnostic images. Patients feel nothing during the scan, lasting anywhere from 15 to 60 minutes. Then, unless the physician needs additional information, the patient can leave and resume normal activity.


How is PET unique?

Unlike anatomical imaging, such as CT and MRI, PET permits the assessment of chemical and physiological changes related to metabolism. This is important because functional changes often occur before structural changes in tissues. PET images may demonstrate pathological changes long before CT and MRI. Unlike traditional nuclear medicine, PET uses unique radiopharmaceuticals, or "tracers," labeled with isotopes like carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and fluorine. These isotopes mimic natural substances such as sugars, water, proteins and oxygen. PET often reveals more about the cellular-level metabolic status of a disease than other types of imaging.


What are PET’s current applications?

PET is advancing treatment in oncology, cardiology and neurology, including diagnosis of many cancers, cardiovascular disease, epilepsy, dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, Huntington’s Disease and Tourette Syndrome. PET has demonstrated effectiveness for monitoring therapeutic response in a wide range of cancers, including breast, lung, ovarian, head, neck and thyroid cancers, as well as melanoma and lymphoma. The range of clinical applications for PET is growing rapidly as technological improvements provide a better understanding of cell metabolism.


PET has the unique ability to cross the boundaries of disease type, enabling physicians to:

  • Diagnose disease before structural changes become detectable with anatomical imaging (CT and MRI), potentially improving the prognosis.
  • Manage patient therapy by monitoring response to a given regimen and providing early feedback on its effectiveness. This can help reduce or avoid the cost of ineffective treatments or unnecessary hospitalization.
  • Replace multiple diagnostic procedures with a single exam in some cases.
  • Predict the prognosis for surgical procedures, eliminating those that won’t benefit the patient, thus reducing costs for unnecessary procedures.
  • Identify the distant spread of cancer that may affect the course of treatment and patient care.


How does PET improve therapy?

Because effective therapy leads to rapid reductions in the glucose uptake levels of tumors, PET tracers can easily reveal this drop in metabolic activity and show - sometimes within minutes or hours - whether a patient is responding to a particular course of treatment. With this information, physicians can quickly modify less effective therapy, thereby improving patient outcomes and reducing the cost of ineffective treatment.

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