Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans help to detect cancer sites by obtaining images of cell activity in the body. During the procedure, the patient is intravenously injected with a tracer containing sugar and radioactive material in small amounts. As cancer cells absorb more radioactive sugar, the tracer will light up. A special camera will scan the body and pick up highlighted areas on a computer screen.
Radiologists will use this information to locate the areas where cells are overly acting, indicating the presence of cancer. When the doctors know the location of cancer, they will conduct further evaluations using other techniques such as a combined PET/CT scan.
PET scans help to evaluate patients who are diagnosed with breast cancer in the following ways;
- It can be used to determine whether a patient’s cancer has spread to lymph nodes
- It can help determine whether cancer has progressed to other body parts and the location it has metastasized to.
- PET scans can also help to assess whether metastatic breast cancer is responding to the treatment.
Breast PET scans are known as positron emission mammography (PEM). After detecting the location of the tumor, the area will be biopsied for testing in the lab. A breast PET scan is often very specific and sensitive and is approved for patients already diagnosed with breast cancer. They help plan the patient’s surgery as well.
Although breast PET scans use radioactive material, the dose of radiation given to the patient is very minimal. However, not all breast cancer patients can undergo positron emission mammography. Diabetics, for example, have abnormal glucose metabolism and cannot be exposed to the scan.
PET scans for breast cancer are performed by highly trained radiologists. They are recommended by doctors who believe that a patient’s cancer has spread beyond the breast. They can also be performed when the doctor suspects that the disease has recurred. PET scans are beneficial, especially when other tests are not able to tell if cancer has spread beyond the breast or spread to other areas in the body.