Wynnewood, Pa. (May 2003) — The most advanced and sensitive diagnostic imaging test for cancer, positron emission tomography (PET), is now available to patients at the hospitals of Main Line Health.
The acquisition of the powerful PET scanning system is a milestone for the communities served by the comprehensive cancer centers at Lankenau, Bryn Mawr and Paoli hospitals, according to Marchello J. Barbarisi, M.D., director of nuclear medicine at Bryn Mawr.
"PET scanning is the most sensitive modality available for the detection and staging of cancer," said Barbarisi. "It has the potential of earlier detection and therefore better staging of the disease and more effective treatment—as well as avoidance of unnecessary treatment."
PET imaging is a noninvasive test that gives physicians an overview of body chemistry, metabolism and cell function, in contrast to pictures of body structures depicted by computerized tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or X-rays. The difference in focus is important because PET can pinpoint disease states before changes are seen on the other imaging techniques, sometimes replacing multiple testing procedures, including diagnostic surgical procedures.
"In oncology patients, PET allows for proper staging of the patient's disease and the appropriate treatment to be instituted," said Nancy Sherwin, M.D., director of nuclear medicine at Lankenau. "We can also evaluate the patient's response to therapy and direct further treatment, depending on the result. What's more, fusion of the images with radiation therapy allows for precise targeting of the radiation treatment to the tumor."
The unit is located in the Nuclear Medicine Department at Lankenau Medical Center. A network connection to each Main Line Health hospital, however, means that after patients have the test, the results are sent to the patients' home hospital for evaluation. Long-range plans include the installation of PET technology at Paoli Memorial and Bryn Mawr.
Valerie Hunt, M.D., director of nuclear medicine at Paoli, called the PET system, which began scanning patients in April, "an instant solution to our needs. This university-quality PET scanning means no long trips to Philadelphia. Main Line Health Imaging has acquired the top of the line PET scanner available."
In a PET scan, a small amount of radioactive material injected into the patient via a sugar solution is picked up by the scanner and analyzed by a computer, creating images of great clarity that reflect the metabolic activity of tissues. Rapidly multiplying cancer cells need more sugar fuel and therefore take up more of the sugar than other tissues, which shows up as hot spots on the scan. When these images are combined, or fused, with a patient's CT or MRI scans, physicians have the most complete picture possible of the disease.
"PET is very sensitive to detecting function or activity of the cancer cells eating up the radioactive sugar," said Andrew Curtin, M.D., chief of radiology at Lankenau, who directed the implementation of the system at the three hospitals. "If you can link the 'hot spots' of radioactivity to a study that shows great anatomic detail, like CT or MRI, then we can create one image that shows both function and form."
PET is being offered first to oncology patients with diseases that are most likely to produce metabolic changes, including lung cancer, lymphoma, melanoma, colorectal, some breast and other cancers. PET scans use about the same amount of radiation as a routine CT scan. The patient waits quietly for about 60 minutes after the injection to allow the solution to circulate through the body. The scan itself takes another 30 to 40 minutes.
Evaluation of melanoma will be the first use of PET. Later, it will be used to evaluate heart disease and to detect early signs of Alzheimer's disease or epilepsy.
For information on PET at Main Line Health, call 610-526-2200.
For more information, call 1.866.CALL.MLH.