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What is a PET Scan?: August 28, 2019

It’s designed to search your body for cancer cells. Using a radioactive tracer, the test allows physicians to determine if and where a patient has cancer. “That is a special radiology study that allows us to really look at the metabolic activity of certain cells, so as an oncologist, we will frequently get a pet scan to see if a patient has a diagnosis of cancer that has spread,” Said Dr. Kristina Mirabeau-Beale, a radiation oncologist on the medical staff of Lee Health.

A PET scan, short for positron emission tomography scan, will clearly show physicians if the tracer detects anything abnormal. “The tissue of interest will ultimately pick up a tracer, and then we acquire pictures that give us a 3D view of the patient's whole body, so the good thing with a pet scan is it shows us head to toe where the tracer has gone. Generally, we will say that something that’s a bad reactor, like cancer, that has a lot of metabolic activity will light up like a Christmas tree,” she said.

In addition to diagnosing patients, PET scans can also be used to help determine how well a patient is responding to cancer treatment. “We tend to use them commonly in things like lung cancer, head and neck cancer, lymphomas,” said Dr. Mirabeau-Beale.

But there are certain cancers where a PET scan offers limited information. “PET is not optimal for certain types of cancers, so for example, the brain because the brain has a lot of metabolic activity so sometimes it’s not the cleanest to determine a brain tumor,” she explained.

The scan takes between 30 minutes to an hour, and can also be used for cardiology or neurology patients. “It’s really an exciting field because it allows us to pick tracers that are specific to different disease processes that can help us with diagnosis,” Dr. Mirabeau-Beale said.

A test that’s helping doctors quickly diagnose and treat patients.


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