Positron emission tomography, or PET scans for short, can be incredibly helpful diagnostic tools for diagnosing or tracking a host of conditions. These scans generally call for the use of radioactive tracer dyes that enable doctors to “see” inside the body. This, in turn, enables doctors to see how well organs are working and if tissues are normal and healthy. Often used to track blood flow, oxygen use and more, PET scans can also be very helpful for diagnosing and managing cancer.
PET scans are commonly used in conjunction with treatments for differentiated thyroid cancers. A new study, in fact, reveals that PET scans are used in about one-fifth of all patients with lower-risk thyroid cancer. The study, conducted by the University of Michigan, found that in about 30 percent of the cases where patients underwent PET scans, the results prompted a change in disease management. That means about 70 percent of the patients who underwent scans found the course of action in their cases did not change following the scans. Those findings came from a review of about 585 patients to track the use of PET scans in their care.
In addition to finding that PET scans did prompt management changes for some, researchers also noted that PET scans seemed to be the most helpful in patients who had higher thyroglobulin levels. They also noted a need to pay attention to the overall cost effectiveness of routine scans that may not be strictly necessary to also help limit radiation exposure.
PET scans can deliver a powerful look inside the body to help doctors diagnose and treat disease. Overuse of these scans, however, may not be strictly necessary in all cases. With that in mind, researchers urge clinicians to carefully weigh the benefits versus the potential risks before ordering scans simply for doing so.
To delve into the topic more, researchers hope to soon launch studies to focus more on the topic of whether imaging modality has an effect on patient morbidity and mortality. How soon that study might be undertaken remains unclear.