Contrary to what it sounds like, a PET scan isn’t scanning a dog or cat for a microchip. Rather, it is a common way of referring to positron emission tomography, an imaging test that uses a small dose of radiation to show activity at the cellular level in the body. PET scans show not only how an organ looks but how it is functioning. It is most commonly used in diagnosing and staging cancer, as well as some cardiovascular and neurological conditions.
How PET Scans Work
The machine detects the activity of contrast agent injected into the body. The contrast agent, a radioactive “tracer,” is attached to a natural chemical like glucose, which seeks out cells in the body that use glucose for energy.
A higher concentration of the tracer will be present in areas of the body requiring more glucose. High levels of glucose use may indicate cancer cell growth and these hot spots show up brighter on PET scan images. These images are interpreted by a radiologist who will report his or her findings to your doctor. The most common glucose-based tracer used is called fluorodeoxyglucose or FDG.
A tracer can also be attached to oxygen and that will reveal areas requiring more oxygen than normal – again, like cancer cells do as they rapidly divide and multiply out of control.
Uses for PET Scans
PET scans are helpful with diagnosing certain health conditions, planning treatment, and checking to see how the body is responding to treatment.
The PET scans are regularly used to investigate conditions like epilepsy because it can reveal which portion of the brain is affected by epilepsy. Alzheimer’s patients can get a solid diagnosis by measuring the uptick in glucose by specific portions of the brain, because the portions that are affected tend to use glucose more slowly, so they would show as cold spots on a PET scan.
To detect cancer, a PET scan can provide a detailed image if cancer is present as well as show any areas to which it has spread. It also can reveal the effects of chemotherapy such as whether the treatments are working and if any additional tumors exist far earlier than any other diagnostic tool.
With heart disease, a PET scan can identify damaged or scarred regions in the heart as well as locate any areas with potential circulatory issues.
In addition, medical researchers can obtain vital information about the inner workings of the human brain and help us learn more about nature’s supercomputer that controls all aspects of our lives.
In short, PET scans, especially when coupled with a CT scan or an MRI, can reveal minute details about the various structures and working processes of the human body.
If you or someone you know has been ordered to undergo a PET scan, choose Independent Imaging for it. They have been providing diagnostic services to patients in Palm Beach County for more than 30 years. Call (561) 795-5558 or request an appointment now for your testing needs.