For the thousands of patients diagnosed with lung and esophageal cancer, routine follow-ups to make certain recurrence hasn’t occurred will become a part of their routine. Researchers are finding, however, that one test’s use should be carefully considered to keep unnecessary procedures off the table. PET scans are often used in the diagnosis process, but their use is limited in the follow-up period by many insurers for a reason. These tests are simply not needed on a routine basis in follow-up care unless other tests raise alarm bells, researchers say. That said, PET scans can prove critical if symptoms indicate their use.
PET scans, or positron emission tomography scans, use radioactive tracers to enable doctors to see inside the body. The images produced can quickly and effectively help doctors visualize a recurrence of cancer so they can take appropriate action if necessary. While commonly used in the diagnostic process, the scans are limited in use in follow-ups by Medicare for good reasons.
Researchers have been looking at the potential overuse of PET technology despite recommendations to avoid doing so. What they’ve found is that in most cases the guidelines to limit use are being followed. Even so, some medical facilities do overuse the test even when patients are asymptomatic.
The recommendation for PET use in aftercare is to reserve the test for cases where a true need arrives. Patients should be first screened using a CT scan. If concerns arise in this imagining test, the PET should be ordered. Researchers found, in fact, that two-year survival rates were the same for patients who went to high-use hospitals and those who went to low-PET use hospitals.
While PET scans offer incredible insights into the development of cancer, their use is meant to be limited in aftercare. These costly tests can and do save lives, but that doesn’t mean they are necessary on a routine basis once cancer has been treated.
People who are being treated for cancer are urged to discuss all tests and procedures with their healthcare providers. While screening tools are critical in aftercare, some procedures should be limited to times when symptoms truly indicate their need.