PET scans, or positron emission tomography scans, are imaging tests that show molecular activity inside the body. These scans help diagnose cancer by detecting unusual cellular processes that could indicate cancerous developments. (In contrast, other imaging scans detect already-formed tumors and other anatomical abnormalities.) This means that PET scans are better for identifying early-stage malignancies. However, PET scans can be combined with other imaging tests, such as a CT scan, for more comprehensive results.
PET scans use a “tracer,” which is a radioactive substance that is given intravenously to a patient about an hour before the scan. As the tracer travels through the body, a radiologist will look for metabolic action that could possibly indicate cancer. For instance, because cancerous cells use more energy than healthy ones, tissues that absorb high amounts of the radioactive tracer might be cancerous.
In addition to detecting primary tumors, PET scans can also be used to:
- Determine if cancer has spread to another part of the body
- Evaluate how a tumor is responding to treatment
- Monitor a cancer survivor for recurrent tumors
At Moffitt Cancer Center, our PET scans are performed by a team of skilled radiologic technicians, and the results are interpreted by experienced, board-certified radiologists. If anything unusual shows up on the scan, additional testing can be performed, and a multispecialty tumor board will collaboratively determine the best possible course of action for the patient.
To learn more about PET scans or any of the other imaging techniques that might be used in the diagnostic process, call 1-888-663-3488 or request an appointment online.