When doctors start ordering tests that have funny-sounding acronyms for names, it’s not uncommon for patients to get just a little bit uncomfortable. If the test in question happens to be a PET scan (or positron emission tomography scan), there’s nothing to fret about. This fairly simple, but highly powerful test is generally ordered to help doctors “see” inside the body to diagnose or rule out illnesses. The good news is that this test offers such insights without actually making doctors go inside the body to see what is going on.
PET scans involve the use of powerful imaging equipment and special radioactive tracers. These tracers are injected into the body prior to a scan and given a chance to circulate. As tracers work their way through the body, they collect in areas that have higher levels of chemical activity. These areas are generally associated with injury or disease. The tracers will enable the spots with higher chemical activity to show up on the subsequent scans as bright spots.
Doctors order PET scans for many different reasons. The most common reasons, however, are to diagnose or rule out cancer, heart disease or brain disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Patients will find PET scans require only a little work on their part. To get ready for that tracer, patients will generally be asked to fast for at least six hours prior to a scan. Heavy exercise may also be off limits for about 24 hours. When patients arrive at an imaging center for a scan, they’ll be asked to dress in a hospital gown and will have to remove any metal objects that could interfere with the scan. After that, a technician will administer the tracer, generally intravenously. This can take about an hour to ensure proper circulation before the screening begins. Once it does, all patients need to do is lie back on a table that is moved through a doughnut-shaped machine.
While PET scans do have a funny-sounding name, this test can prove critical in diagnosing and treating many illnesses while making the process much easier and less-invasive for patients. If a PET scan is ordered and there are any concerns, just ask the doctor directly for more information in advance of this test.