We have entered a new era of medical imaging in cancer. Across the country, imaging labs are now fusing PET with CT into a new scan called PET/CT.
PET/CT combines two imaging technologies—Positron Emission Tomography (PET) and Computed Tomography (CT) – into one study. The PET scan is a powerful, highly sensitive imaging process that looks at cellular function. This non-invasive procedure detects actively growing cancer cells by scanning a patient who has been injected with radioactive glucose (sugar). Since many cancer cells are highly metabolic, the scan picks up signals of metabolic activity in the patient. These areas of high glucose uptake are dramatically displayed in the scan imagery, indicating active tumors.
The CT (or CAT) scan provides anatomical imagery, giving physicians a detailed picture of the patient’s internal anatomy with the location, size and shape of abnormal cancerous growths. It uses highly advanced x-ray equipment to produce extremely accurate detail of bones, tissue and tumors. When these technologies are fused into a single image, doctors are able both to identify abnormal activity within the body and precisely pinpoint its location.
PET/CT fusion is used to identify cancer, heart disease and brain disorders. With cancer, it is particularly effective at exposing the presence of the disease, where it is located and if it is spreading. It helps find recurrences of cancer and can be used to guide the surgeon to the exact location. For patients, this means the physician has the most accurate information available to determine the extent of the cancer, plan the most effective treatment, and assess treatment response.
There are some risks with overexposure to radiation, so the scans are used only when necessary. And they should be administered by professional medical technologists and interpreted by board certified radiologists.
As a cancer patient, I'm more hopeful with each advancement in technology that may help us survive.