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A Primer on PET Scanning


What is a PET/CT scan?

Positron emission tomography (PET) and computerized tomography (CT) are both state-of-the-art imaging tools. The highly sensitive PET scan images the biology of disorders at the molecular level, while the CT scan provides a detailed picture of the body's internal anatomy. The PET/CT scan combines the strengths of these two well-established imaging modalities into a single scan.

A remarkable tool in cancer care, cardiology, neurology and psychiatry, PET/CT, or Positron Emission Tomography combined with CAT Scan, is an imaging procedure that tells physicians about the body’s chemistry, its cell function and the exact location of disease — information not available through CT, MRI, X-ray, blood test or physical examination. A PET/CT scan can offer patients greater peace of mind and better care through more accurate diagnosis and earlier detection.

PET/CT can assess the effectiveness of chemotherapy, tell if some tumors are malignant, determine the stage of cancer, detect silent cancer, or see clearly if it has spread to other parts of the body -- in turn assessing the right treatment sooner and increasing your chance for survival. In cardiology, physicians use PET/CT to screen heart disease, assess damage from a heart attack, and learn if you will benefit from a bypass operation. In neurology, PET/CT is uniquely able to detect early signs of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases, epilepsy and other disorders, even before some symptoms occur, making a critical difference in their treatment and management

For more information on the technical specifications of Valley's PET Scanner, click here.

How does PET/CT compare to other imaging choices?

Unlike CT alone and MRI, which produce images of anatomical structures, PET/CT scans are pictures of actual biological functions within the body. This is critical because chemical and metabolic change occurs in diseased tissue long before structural change shows up in a CT alone, MRI or X-ray.

In oncology, the advantages can be dramatic. Clearly, the most dangerous aspect of cancer is how it spreads throughout the human body. PET/CT inspects all organ systems to search for cancer in a single examination. In the words of the Institute for Clinical PET/CT (ICP), a non-profit advocacy and patient education organization, "If cancer has spread, PET/CT will expose it."

For individual patients, the usefulness and advisability of a PET/CT scan will vary according to a given situation, including the stage and type of cancer, heart disease, neurological disorder or other condition. Your physician can best advise you on whether a PET/CT scan is worthwhile in a specific instance.

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