PET/CT scan is a type of imaging test that combines positron emission tomography (PET) and computed tomography (CT) techniques. Combined PET/CT scans can be performed on any part of the body. They are frequently used to gather information about the heart, brain, and lungs.
PET scans use a radioactive form of sugar (or other molecules) that is injected into your body to measure the cellular activity of the body part being scanned. A CT scan takes a large number of x-rays. These are analyzed by a computer to create a three-dimensional image of the body part being studied. When both tests are performed at the same time, the information about function and structure is integrated through computer models.
PET Scan of the Brain
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Because combined PET/CT scans provide a combination of information about the function and structure of a body part, they are very useful for the early diagnosis of cancer. Not only can the presence of an abnormal tumor be noted, but the function of the cells that make up the tumor can be analyzed. This can help to differentiate between benign growths (not cancer) and malignant growths (cancer). PET/CT is also used in re-staging previously diagnosed cancer.
Each of these tests has its own limitations. When combined, they provide very precise information on cancer location and activity. In the past, both of the tests had to be done separately, making the interpretation of results more difficult due to changes in the patient’s body position. However, with the availability of scanners that combine both technologies, this is no longer a problem. Many cancer specialists believe that this technology will allow doctors to reduce the number of invasive procedures that patients need to undergo (eg, biopsies ) and still be able to provide very accurate monitoring.
Brain and heart disorders are also studied using PET/CT scans.
Some possible complications with this test include:
A PET/CT scan takes about a total of two hours to complete. The injection occurs about 45 minutes to an hour prior to the start of the scan. The scan itself takes about 35 minutes.
The placement of the IV line will be slightly painful, but there should be no other pain involved. You may feel some flushing when the tracer agent is injected.
Based on the results, your doctor will decide if any further tests or treatments are needed.
After the test, call your doctor if any of the following occurs:
In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.
National Institutes of Health
Radiological Society of North America
BC Cancer Agency
Canadian Cancer Society
Adam A, Dixon A, Grainger R, Allison D. Grainger & Allison's Diagnostic Radiology: A Textbook of Medical Imaging . 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders; 2008.
Grainger RG, Allison D, Adam A, Dixon AK, eds. Grainger & Allison’s Diagnostic Radiology: A Textbook of Medical Imaging . 4th ed. London, England: Elsevier; 2001.
Mettler FA. Essentials of Radiology . 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders; 2005.
Schidt GP, Kramer H, Reiser MF, Glaser C. Whole-body magnetic resonance imaging and positron-emission tomography-computed tomography in oncology. Topics in Magn Res Imaging . 2007;18:193-202.
Last reviewed December 2011 by Lawrence Frisch, MD, MPH
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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