Finding out that you have cancer of an unknown primary can be confusing. Fortunately, medical imaging can be helpful in tracking the original location of these kinds of cancers in order for doctors to make more informed decisions about treatments. If you have received this diagnosis, your doctor may send you to an imaging center in San Antonio for a PET scan or other imaging tests in order to learn more about your disease. Here are the answers to some questions you may have about your diagnosis.
What is cancer of an unknown primary?
In most cases, cancers are named for the organ in which they began. For instance, if you have cancer that starts in your throat, it will be referred to as throat cancer, even if it spreads to other parts of the body. In this instance, throat cancer is the primary cancer. With cancer of an unknown primary, doctors are not sure where the cancer began. Although your doctor may know that the cancer is in multiple parts of your body, he or she cannot determine what organ was the primary location. Knowing the primary location of a cancer can be important in making decisions about treatments.
How can the primary location be found?
There are a number of tests your doctor may order to find the primary location of your cancer. Biopsies, which allow your doctor to see the cancer cells, can be helpful, as can blood tests. Medical imaging can also play an important role. Doctors can look at how cancer is developing and behaving to help them find the primary location.
Can the primary location always be found?
Sometimes, the starting point of cancer of an unknown primary cannot be found. If the primary location is not found, doctors will build a treatment plan using the information they do have about your cancer. As with other forms of cancer, cancer of an unknown primary may be treated with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, targeted and hormone therapies, and other medications.
PET scans and PET-CT scans are used for a number of reasons, most frequently to diagnose cancer and evaluate the effectiveness of cancer treatments. If you’ve been referred to an imaging center in San Antonio for a PET scan, this video will give you information about how to prepare and what to expect.
The medical imaging center will advise you whether you need to avoid eating or drinking before your scan. Be prepared to be at the imaging center for a few hours, as you must wait for the tracer used during the scan to work its way through your body. The scan is painless, but you will need to be still for the test, which can take up to an hour.
Positron emission tomography scans, or PET scans , do more than static medical imaging tests, like MRIs and CT scans. PET scans show your doctor the chemical changes that happen in the metabolism because of diseased or abnormal cells. PET scans can be used in conjunction with other medical imaging tests in San Antonio for a number of reasons, including cancer care. Pet scans are used in a number of different ways in cancer care, including the following applications.
PET scans are helpful in diagnosing cancer because they don’t simply provide anatomical imaging but also offer biological information. Through a PET scan, your doctor can see areas of your body with high rates of sugar metabolism, which can indicate an active tumor. Cancerous cells thrive on sugar, so when a PET scan is performed after a glucose injection, abnormal, potentially cancerous cells will consume the glucose faster than other parts of the body. Often, PET scans are combined with CT scans to make a cancer diagnosis both at the outset of the disease and when cancer recurs after treatment.
For patients undergoing cancer treatment, PET scans help to evaluate the effectiveness of their care plans. Through a PET scan, doctors can determine if the treatment is shrinking the tumor or if a change needs to be made to the types of treatment being used. During cancer treatment, patients may undergo multiple PET scans in conjunction with other tests designed to determine how well different treatments are working.
In order to make decisions about different treatments, doctors have to understand if cancer has spread beyond its origin point. PET scans help providers find cancer in other parts of the body that can indicate that the disease has metastasized. This process also helps doctors determine the stage of the cancer, which is an important part of making treatment decisions.
A PET/CT scan is a combined test that involves a positron emission tomography (PET) scan and a computed tomography (CT) scan. A PET scan is a nuclear medicine test, which means it uses radioactive tracers. A CT scan uses X-rays to produce internal images of the body. If you have any questions or concerns about undergoing a PET/CT scan, a radiology specialist at Concord Imaging Center in San Antonio will be happy to discuss them with you.
Reasons for PET/CT Scans
Combined PET and CT scans are helpful for diagnosing a variety of medical problems, including cancer. This exam can aid in the initial diagnosis of cancer and in staging cancer, which refers to determining whether the cancer has spread. PET/CT scans can also help doctors evaluate how well cancer treatments are working and whether cancer has returned after treatment. Another common reason for undergoing a PET/CT scan is to evaluate the functioning of the heart. It may be used for assessing the damage inflicted by a heart attack and for planning cardiac surgeries.
Preparations for PET/CT Scans
The imaging center will give you directions to follow ahead of your appointment. You may be asked to avoid eating anything and drinking anything that contains calories for a few hours before the appointment. You can drink plain water. If you’re a diabetic, the radiologist may give you different instructions. Your radiologist will need to know if any of the following applies to you:
- You are pregnant or might be pregnant.
- You are breastfeeding.
- You have removable dental work or hearing aids.
- You’re taking any medications or supplements.
- You have any allergies, particularly to seafood, iodine, and contrast materials.
Steps of PET/CT Scans
When you arrive at the imaging center, you may be asked to change into a hospital gown before lying on an exam table. You’ll receive the radioactive tracer, which may be inhaled, swallowed, or given intravenously. It will take the tracer a while to travel around your body. You’ll be asked to lie quietly during this time. Then, you’ll be positioned in the scanner, where you’ll also need to remain still. It generally takes about 30 minutes to perform a PET and CT scan.
Positron emission tomography (PET) scans are sophisticated medical exams that allow radiologists to capture detailed information about the function of the organs and tissues. If you’re expecting an upcoming visit to an imaging center in San Antonio for a PET scan , it’s a good idea to learn a little bit about what you can expect. Additionally, you should call the imaging center ahead of time to find out how you should prepare for your appointment.
You may be asked to avoid strenuous exercise for a couple of days and to avoid eating for a few hours prior to your appointment at the imaging center. You should inform the radiologist about your underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes, prior allergic reactions, recent hospitalizations or illnesses, or claustrophobia. Let the radiology professional know if you’re pregnant, could be pregnant, or are breastfeeding.
Upon your arrival, you’ll be asked to change into a hospital gown. You’ll receive an injection of a radioactive drug or radiopharmaceutical. Most often, PET scans involve the use of FDG. This is a form of glucose or sugar that is radioactive. The amount of glucose that is used is not sufficient to cause any sort of problems for diabetic patients. The slight pinprick you’ll feel when the injection is administered is the only discomfort that occurs during a PET scan.
After receiving the injection, you’ll be asked to rest for a period of time. This gives the glucose some time to work its way through your body. Then, you’ll be positioned on a padded, moveable exam table. This table slides into the PET scanner. You’ll be asked to remain as still as possible during the test, which typically takes about 30 minutes. Some patients undergo a CT scan combined with a PET scan.
You can return to your usual activities after you leave the imaging center. The radiopharmaceutical is eliminated from your body relatively quickly, but you’ll be asked to drink plenty of water to help flush it out.
Alzheimer’s disease and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) changes the structure of the brain, such as by leading to the formation of tau tangles. Until recently, imaging centers in San Antonio could not detect these brain changes while the patient was still alive. The only way to diagnose these conditions was during an autopsy. Now, new advances in positron emission tomography (PET) scans have made it possible. A PET scan is a noninvasive way to facilitate the early detection of CTE and Alzheimer’s.
You can hear more about advances in PET scan technology when you watch this video. It features an ex-NFL player, Dave Herman, who began exhibiting signs of memory loss and thinking problems. He visited a radiologist for a PET scan and received a diagnosis of CTE, which is caused by the brain damage that results from repeated concussions.
Early disease detection is an essential part of staying healthy, and scheduling a PET scan in San Antonio can help you remain well long-term. Positron emission technology (PET) can identify changes in the body at the cellular level and evaluate your tissue and organ function.
Preparing for Your PET Scan
Most people will be asked to consume no food and only water for several hours before the PET scan in scheduled, and patients who are diabetic will be given special instructions for their procedure. Because any food in your stomach may interfere with the distribution of the radioactive tracer, it’s vital to adhere to these pet scan prep instructions to avoid having to reschedule your appointment. Be prepared to remove any metal hairpins, jewelry, and eyeglasses before your test, as well as removable dental work or hearing aids. Some patients may be asked to change into a gown for the scanning process.
How PET Scans Work
PET scans are done using a large machine with a hole through the middle that looks much like an MRI or CT unit. Radioactive material is injected into the bloodstream, swallowed, or inhaled, and then accumulates in the target area of the body. The energy that this material emits is detected by the machine, revealing information about organ and tissue structure, chemical activity, metabolism rates, and other information. The scanner records this data, which is then transformed into images using a computer.
PET Scan Procedure
Most PET procedures are painless and are not considered to be extremely uncomfortable. During the scan, you’ll need to remain as still as possible to ensure clear and accurate images. Most people can resume their normal activities after the scan unless informed otherwise by their physician, and any special instructions will be given to you before you leave the imaging center. It’s recommended that patients drink plenty of water after the procedure to help flush the radioactive material from their system.
There are many hospitals and clinics that offer radiology services to residents of San Antonio and the surrounding areas. But only Concord Imaging prides itself on building close relationships with our patients and their doctors. At our imaging center, our respect for our patients is inherent in all that we do-from our beautifully designed, serene waiting area to our separate, private Women’s Imaging area.
When you arrive at our imaging center, a radiologist will welcome you and help you feel at ease with your imaging exam. If you have any questions or concerns, please allow us to address them. Our radiologists emphasize the importance of involving the patient directly in his or her own care and collaborating closely with the patient’s doctor to facilitate the administration of appropriate medical services. Many of our patients return to our imaging center for subsequent exams because of our personal touch and commitment to quality. But we’re also an affordable choice. We understand that high premiums can be an obstacle to quality healthcare and we’re determined to resolve this problem by offering low rates to our valued patients.
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
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.
While there is no 100% accurate method of Alzheimer’s testing in San Antonio , a PET scan can provide your doctor with valuable information that he can use to make a diagnosis. If you are exhibiting early warning signs of Alzheimer’s, your doctor may recommend a combination of a new drug with a PET brain scan for early Alzheimer’s detection. A PET brain scan is typically the next step in Alzheimer’s testing if a complete medical exam found no cause for your symptoms.
Alzheimer’s may be present in the brain if you have abnormal clumps of cells, called plaque, in the brain. Before your PET brain scan, a radiologist at a medical imaging center will inject you with a drug that attaches to these plaques. He will then take medical images of your brain using a PET machine.
The drug highlights areas of plaque so that the radiologist and your doctor can see them in your medical images. If the PET scan does not show any areas of plaque in your brain, you likely do not have Alzheimer’s disease, though this doesn’t ensure that you won’t develop the disease in the future.
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