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PET Provides Real-Life Answers
Accurate diagnosis, staging and prognosis is integral to successful cancer treatment. That's why Piedmont Augusta offers a full array of state-of-the-art diagnostics including the area's first stationary PET scanner.
PET technology can detect and monitor a patient's cancer by obtaining images of the metabolic physiologic processes, enabling detection of cancer earlier than with other radiologic technologies. PET technology also:
- shows whether a patient is responding to a particular treatment
- offers pre-surgical assessments
- replaces multiple tests
- identifies metastases, or spreading of cancer
- reduces the need for invasive procedures
What is PET?
PET stands for Positron Emission Tomography, a procedure that detects changes in cellular function – how cells are utilizing nutrients like sugar and oxygen. The changes detected by PET take place before physical changes occur, enabling physicians to make an earlier diagnosis. PET often allows quicker initiation of treatment while avoiding more invasive exams or exploratory surgery. Other imaging technologies, such as CT or MRI, detect changes in the physical size or structure of internal organs, which often take place long after those detected by PET technology.
What are the potential benefits of PET?
- Earlier diagnosis
- Monitoring of treatment efficiency
- Elimination of invasive procedures
- Replacement of multiple tests
- Pre-surgical assessment
- Identification of distant metastases or spreading of cancer
What happens during a PET scan?
The patient receives a radiopharmaceutical injection and waits for the radiopharmaceutical to distribute itself -- typically 30 minutes to an hour. During this time the patient is able to read, speak or listen to music until the scan begins. The only exception is for patients whose brains will be scanned; they are asked to wait in a quiet, dimly lit room, without stimulating their brains by reading or talking.
What is the scan like?
Patients lie very still on a table that moves slowly through the ring-like PET scanner as it acquires the information it needs to generate diagnostic images. Patients don’t feel anything during the scan, which can last anywhere from 15 to 60 minutes. Then, unless the physician sees a need for acquiring additional information, the patient can leave and resume normal activity.
How is PET unique?
Unlike anatomical imaging, such as CT and MRI, PET permits assessment of chemical and physiological changes related to metabolism. This is important because functional changes often occur before structural changes in tissues. PET images may demonstrate pathological changes long before CT and MRI. Unlike traditional nuclear medicine, PET uses unique radiopharmaceuticals, or "tracers," labeled with isotopes like carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and fluorine. These isotopes mimic natural substances such as sugars, water, proteins and oxygen. PET often reveals more about the cellular-level metabolic status of a disease than other types of imaging.
What are PET’s current applications?
PET is advancing treatment in oncology, cardiology and neurology, including diagnosis of many cancers, cardiovascular disease, epilepsy, dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, Huntington’s Disease and Tourette Syndrome. PET has demonstrated effectiveness for monitoring therapeutic response in a wide range of cancers, including breast, lung, ovarian, head, neck and thyroid cancers, as well as melanoma and lymphoma. The range of clinical applications for PET is growing rapidly as technological improvements provide a better understanding of cell metabolism.
PET has the unique ability to cross the boundaries of disease type, enabling physicians to:
- Diagnose disease before structural changes become detectable with anatomical imaging (CT and MRI), potentially improving the prognosis.
- Manage patient therapy by monitoring response to a given regimen and providing early feedback on its efficacy. This can help reduce or avoid the cost of ineffective treatments or unnecessary hospitalization.
- Replace multiple diagnostic procedures with a single exam in some cases.
- Predict the prognosis for surgical procedures, eliminating those that won’t benefit the patient, thus reducing costs for unnecessary procedures.
- Identify distant spread of cancer that may affect the course of treatment and patient care.
How does PET improve therapy?
Because effective therapy leads to rapid reductions in the glucose uptake levels of tumors, PET tracers can easily reveal this drop in metabolic activity and show -- sometimes within minutes or hours -- whether a patient is responding to a particular course of treatment. With this information, physicians can quickly modify less effective therapy, thereby improving patient outcomes and reducing the cost of ineffective treatment.