When it comes to high-tech imaging and tracking of cancer, nothing matches the amazing capabilities of today’s PET/CT machine. The technology combines positron emission tomography (PET) scanning with computed tomography (CT) scanning. PET uses small amounts of radiation to show how well various organs are functioning; CT provides detailed images of organs and tissues. The combined result is highly detailed 3-D images of the function and structure of various parts of the body.
The first PET/CT prototype was unveiled in 1998 at the University of Pittsburgh, and it was first introduced into clinical use in 2001. PET/CT has emerged as one of the fastest growing modalities worldwide according to the Journal of Nuclear Medicine Technology.
The vast majority of PET/CT imaging is for cancer (oncology) diagnosis and treatment. Oncologists use PET/CT scans to determine how fast a tumor is growing and to track how well chemotherapy or radiation therapy is working. If a cancerous tumor or mass needs to be surgically removed, a PET/CT scan can help a surgeon plan how to best treat or remove the cancer, while leaving as much healthy tissue as possible.
PET/CT has been shown to have a major impact on how patients are treated. For example, a study in the July 2012 issue of the Journal of Nuclear Medicine showed that more than 40 percent of lung cancer (non-small cell) patients had their course of treatment changed when physicians had PET/CT information as opposed to only conventional imaging.
PET/CT imaging may also be used to diagnose and treat heart disease as well as brain disorders, including dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, brain tumors and seizure disorders.
The procedure itself is painless and completely non-invasive. Upon arrival at a hospital, cancer center or imaging center, the patient is given an IV injection of the radioactive tracer and asked to rest quietly. The radioactive tracer can take anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes to make its way to the part of the body being scanned. Once the tracer has reached its destination, the patient is asked to lie on the PET/CT scanner table for 30 to 45 minutes as the machine goes to work. Once the scan is complete, the patient is free to resume normal activities.
Today’s PET/CT scanners are more comfortable and faster than previous technology. Future developments promise even more accurate detection and diagnosis of disease at earlier, more treatable stages and with less radiation. QCBN
Michael J. LaBenz, M.D., is a radiologist at Northern Arizona Radiology.