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What is a PET Scan?

A positron emission tomography (PET) scan is a noninvasive imaging test that allows your doctor to check for diseases in your body. A PET scan can often detect the abnormal metabolism of the tracer in diseases before the disease shows up on other imaging tests, such as computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

During a PET scan, a radioactive substance is injected into the bloodstream and accumulates in the body where it gives off energy in the form of gamma rays. These are detected by the PET scanner and a computer converts the signals into detailed pictures or images showing how tissue and organs are working. 

A PET scan can be done on the head, neck, or whole body. 

What does a PET Scan do?

PET scans are frequently used to check on the state of your body and detect abnormalities. Your doctor may order a PET scan to inspect your blood flow, your oxygen intake, or the metabolism of your organs and tissues. PET scans show problems at the cellular level, giving your doctor the best view of complex systemic diseases. PET scans can be used to detect cancer. 

Cancer cells have a higher metabolic rate than noncancerous cells. Because of this high level of chemical activity, cancer cells show up as bright spots on PET scans. For this reason, PET scans are useful both for detecting cancer and for:

  • seeing if the cancer has spread
  • seeing if a cancer treatment is working
  • checking for a cancer recurrence

However, these scans should be read carefully by your doctor, as it’s possible for noncancerous conditions to look like cancer on a scan. It’s also common for solid tumors to fail to appear on PET scans. It can also help determine a treatment method and then later be used to see if the cancer has returned.

How are PET scans performed?

Your doctor will provide you with complete instructions for how to prepare for your PET scan. Tell your doctor about any prescription, over-the-counter (OTC), or supplemental medications you’re taking. 

Before the scan, you’ll get tracers through a vein in your arm, through a solution you drink, or in a gas you inhale. Your body needs time to absorb the tracers, so you’ll wait about an hour before the scan begins.

How long a PET takes depends on how long it takes for your body to fully absorb the tracer will depend on the area of the body being scanned. While you wait, you’ll want to limit any movement, relax, and try to stay warm. If you’re undergoing a brain scan, you’ll want to avoid television, music, and reading.

Next, you’ll undergo the scan, which can last anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes. This involves lying on a narrow table attached to a PET machine, which looks like a giant letter “O.” The table glides slowly into the machine so that the scan can be conducted.

You’ll need to lie still during the scan. The technician will let you know when you need to remain still. You may be asked to hold your breath for several seconds. You’ll hear buzzing and clicking noises during the test.

When all the necessary images have been recorded, you’ll slide out of the machine.

What are the risks?

The primary risk associated with PET scans are related to the radiation in the radioactive tracer, which is very low and doesn’t stay in your body for long. Doctors recommend drinking lots of water after a PET scan to help flush the radioactive drug from your body. In general, PET scans are safe and rarely cause problems. Exceptions include:

  • Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not get PET scans. The radiation may be harmful to an unborn baby and can pass to an infant in breast milk.
  • Some people may have an allergic reaction to PET scan radioactive tracers or CT scan contrast dyes. Your medical team can give you medication to quickly slow and stop this response but anyone aware of this allergy should notify their doctor and imaging support staff.
  • People with diabetes may not absorb the sugar in the radiotracer, which can affect scan results. Your healthcare provider will offer suggestions to modify your diet and medications before the test.

Are there any side effects from PET scans?

The substances used in PET scanning are not associated with any side effects, so you should feel no different after the scan. Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, you can resume normal activities after a PET scan.

To book an imaging scan, visit us at Medmo.com. Medmo helps people schedule radiology imaging tests – such as MRI, CT scans, PET, and more – at nearby accredited centers and identify the payment solution that works best for them.

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