Positron emission tomography (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, or positrons, which when absorbed by cells can be 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 computerized tomography (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.

Hybrid technology enhances diagnosis and treatment

Combining the power of positron emission tomography with computerized tomography, the PET/CT scanner is setting a new standard of imaging excellence at Main Line Health Imaging. At Main Line Health, we produce both functional and anatomical images of exceptional quality in one simple procedure. Designed for maximum imaging flexibility, ease of use and patient comfort, the PET/CT captures highly detailed views of the body in seconds, allowing a wide range of assessments, such as tracking blood flow in detail through the heart and assessing tumor activity.

With applications for oncology, cardiology and neurology, the hybrid unit offers radiologists unparalleled capabilities for diagnosing disease, monitoring disease activity and planning treatment.

  • By studying metabolic activity, PET yields vital information in cancer cases. It assesses tumor activity and depth, finds residual cancer cells, and monitors for recurrent disease. PET’s information is so precise, for example, that it can identify if a spot on a lung is cancerous or not.
  • CT scans take thin cross-sectional images of the body, akin to slices of bread, which physicians can rotate, examine, and correlate on a computer screen. When combined with the functional information of PET alone, a PET/CT scan provides precise information on the location of the abnormal metabolic activity that is associated with tumors on PET scans. This allows more accurate diagnosis and treatment.

While each imaging test alone is effective to detect numerous conditions, the ability of the PET/CT to fuse the tests provides significantly more information on disease location and metabolism.

To schedule a PET/CT scan appointment at Main Line Health, call 484.337.2200.