How Does a PET Scan Work?

Radiologist and Patient

Your doctor may refer you to an imaging center for a positron emission tomography (PET) scan. This is a type of diagnostic imaging study that allows your doctor to study diseases and bodily responses. When you make an appointment for your PET scan at the San Antonio-area facility, you may hear the term “nuclear medicine.” Nuclear medicine is a specialized branch of radiology that involves the use of very small amounts of radioactive material. This may sound unsettling; however, you can rest assured that your PET scan will be painless.

What PET Scans Are Used For

Radiology You may be referred to a radiologist for a PET scan for a variety of reasons. PET scans play a central role in diagnosing and staging cancer. They can also be used to assess how effectively a particular treatment is killing cancer cells. PET scans can allow for the evaluation of heart and brain function, and they can help doctors assess the flow of blood to the heart. A doctor may order a PET scan when a patient has suffered a heart attack or is suspected of having brain tumors. It is even possible to use data from PET scans to pinpoint the early changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

How PET Scans Work

First, the radiologist injects radioactive glucose into the patient . This is also known as a radiotracer. This substance gives off radioactive emissions, which are detected by the imaging device. The data are translated into images for evaluation. PET scans may sometimes be combined with computed tomography (CT) scans or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. This practice is referred to as image fusion. By combining information from two exams, patients may benefit from more accurate diagnoses.

What Happens During the Test

The imaging center provides patients with PET scan prep instructions. You’ll need to disclose your health information, such as whether you’re pregnant, could be pregnant, or are breastfeeding. Provided you are not a diabetic, you’ll be asked to consume nothing but water for several hours before the appointment. During the test, you’ll lie comfortably on an exam table as the radiotracer is injected. After about an hour, you’ll be moved into the scanner. A PET scan takes about 20 to 30 minutes to complete.

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