PET/CT Oncology

The majority of PET/CT scans are performed for oncologic applications. Physicians utilize PET/CT scans for diagnosing, staging and evaluating treatments for their cancer patients. A PET scan helps the physician distinguish between living and dead tissue. PET imaging provides the physician with additional information about cellular activity, which guides the characterization of a questionable abnormality as malignant or benign.

A PET/CT scan can show the extent of disease. For patients whose cancer is newly diagnosed, it is important to determine if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body so that appropriate treatment can be started. A PET scan images the entire body in a single examination, and aids the physician in detecting the primary site(s) as well as any metastases. Painful, costly and invasive surgery, such as thoracotomy, may no longer be necessary for diagnosis.

A PET/CT scan can also help physicians monitor the treatment of disease. For example, chemotherapy leads to changes in cellular activity that is observable by PET/CT long before structural changes can be measured. This gives physicians an alternative technique to evaluate treatments earlier, perhaps even leading to modifications in treatment, before an evaluation would normally be made using other imaging technologies.

After treatment is complete, a PET/CT scan allows the physician to investigate suspected recurrence of cancer, revealing tumors that might otherwise be obscured by scar tissue resulting from surgery and radiation therapy.

The earlier the diagnosis and the more accurate the assessment of the extent of disease, the better the chance for successful treatment.

In one continuous whole-body scan, PET/CT captures images of changes in the body’s metabolism caused by actively growing cancer cells.

When disease strikes, the biochemistry of your tissues and cells change. In cancer, for example, cells begin to grow at a much faster rate. In one continuous whole-body scan, PET/CT captures images of changes in the body’s metabolism caused by actively growing cancer cells and provides a detailed picture of the body’s internal anatomy that reveals the size, shape and exact location of the abnormal cancerous growths.

The PET/CT scan begins with injection of a glucose-based radiopharmaceutical (18F FDG), which travels through the body, eventually collecting in the organs and tissues targeted for examination.

The patient lies flat on a table that moves incrementally through the PET/CT scanner. The CT portion of the exam sends X-rays through the body which are then measured by detectors in the CT scanner. A computer algorithm then processes those measurements to produce images of the body’s internal structures.

The PET scanner has cameras that detect the gamma rays emitted from the patient, and turns those into electrical signals. These are processed by a computer to generate the images. The table moves slowly through the scanner and many sets of PET and CT images are produced.

The CT and PET images are assembled by the computer into a 3-D image of the patient’s body. If an area is cancerous, the signals will be stronger there than in surrounding tissue, since more of the radiopharmaceutical will be absorbed in those areas. Each imaging modality can be viewed independently of the other without compromise, or used in concert for complementary functional and anatomic diagnosis. PET/CT is a highly sensitive procedure that aids in the detection of small cancerous tumors and subtle changes in the brain and heart. This enables physicians to identify and treat these diseases earlier and more accurately.