Positron Emission Tomography (or "PET") is an imaging technology that takes advantage of body metabolism and cell function in body tissues to show where diseases are hiding…particularly cancers. PET is unlike any other imaging technique because it doesn't simply record structures; it records metabolic activity. The unique ability of the PET scanner to see chemical and physiological changes of disease at the cellular level — and much faster than with other imaging tools — allows for earlier detection and more accurate diagnosis of diseases. PET can also be used to determine appropriate treatments for disease and efficiently track the body's response to those treatments.
In a PET scan, a small amount of a short-lived radioactive tracer is injected into the patient via a sugar solution. This material discharges positively-charged particles (called "positrons") which when absorbed by cells can traced to reveal the locations of high metabolic activity. A camera picks up the tracer's signals, and a computer converts them into precise, three-dimensional pictures of these cells.
PET scanning gives physicians the ability to actually see the chemical changes that are occurring inside a cell. Whereas other conventional imaging techniques show only body anatomy and structure, PET images reveal the chemical functioning of an organ or tissue-crucial information that helps doctors determine the best courses of treatment. For even more insight and understanding, these PET images can be combined with images obtained from CT scans (which show great anatomical detail), giving physicians the most complete picture possible of a disease — a study of both form and function.
The PET scan is completely painless and safe, using the same amount of radiation as a routine X-ray. A typical PET scan takes approximately 30-45 minutes, but expect to be at the facility for up to two hours. Main Line Health Imaging was one of the first in the Philadelphia region to offer this cutting-edge technology.
Applications for PET Scanning
PET Scanning is dramatically transforming the way physicians obtain vital diagnostic information for patients. Seeing these metabolic changes at their earliest stages gives physicians a crucial advantage in detecting and treating many diseases. PET is useful for identifying Alzheimerís Disease, epilepsy and other central nervous system disorders. Cardiac PET scans can also help determine if patients with chronic ischemic heart disease may benefit from revascularization procedures.
PET's most common and important applications are in oncology (cancer care). When it comes to managing cancer, the goal is to use as few tests as possible to provide the best and most effective treatment for our patients. PET imaging can often detect tumors before such structural scans as X-Ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) can identify them or when other tests are inconclusive. The scanner's extreme sensitivity makes it possible to detect cancers at their earliest stages and pinpoint their exact locations.
PET also provides critical information about whether a tumor is malignant or not, the extent of the disease, and whether it has spread to other organs. And it can be used to look for signs of cancer recurrence and monitor the effectiveness of chemotherapy and other treatments.
The benefits of PET include:
Detailed diagnostic information not available from other tests (like CT and MRI)
Shorter time for definitive diagnosis
Earlier detection of disease with fewer invasive diagnostic procedures
Precise staging of the disease and better monitoring of recurrences
More effective tracking of chemotherapy results
Avoidance of unnecessary surgery
Where do I go for my PET scan?
Once found only in research laboratories, PET scans have been available to patients of Main Line Health Imaging for nearly five years. The unit is housed at Lankenau Medical Center, but results can be sent via a secure network connection to Bryn Mawr and Paoli Hospitals so patients can be evaluated and treated at their home hospitals after completing the test.
Main Line Health Imaging offers a combined PET/CT system at Bryn Mawr Hospital Outpatient Imaging Services and Paoli Hospital. This state-of-the-art technology acquires all PET and CT information in one simple scan streamlining the testing process for patients and physicians.
What Happens Next?
An experienced Main Line Health radiologist will analyze your PET scans and send a report to your referring physician, who will inform you on your test results. Results cannot be given directly to the patient or family.
For more information, call 1.866.CALL.MLH.