A PET scan is designed to scan the body in search of cancer cells. The scan uses a radioactive tracer to target and identify cancer cells. Physicians use PET scans to determine whether a patient has cancer and where the cancer is located. A PET scan detects cancer cells by monitoring their metabolic activity.
A positron emission tomography scan will show the radiologists if the radiotracer detects abnormal activity in the body. The affected tissue will pick up the tracer, pick up images which will be viewed in 3D on a computer.
- Before undergoing the PET scan, a patient is asked not to eat anything the evening before the scheduled scan. This will help the scanner to take clear images of the body to give doctors a clear view of the patient’s condition.
- The scanner will take different angles of images of the patient’s body as directed by the tracer. A bad reactor such as cancer will often have a lot of metabolic activity. This will light up on the tracer to show the presence of cancer cells.
- Apart from diagnosing cancer in patients, PET scans also help to determine whether the patient is responding to treatment or not. They are mostly used in different cancers including head and neck cancer, lung cancer and lymphomas, among others.
- Although quite effective, PET scans do not work for some cancers. It is not optimal for certain forms of cancers such as brain cancer. This is because the brain has plenty of metabolic activity, which makes it challenging to determine if the activity is caused by a tumor or not.
A PET scan takes about 30 minutes to an hour. It can also be used by radiologists on neurology or cardiology patients. It is an essential tool in oncology since it helps doctors to pick tracers that are particular to various disease processes to help with diagnosis. This also allows doctors to develop treatment plans specific to each patient.