PET/CT Scans: What to Expect

When your doctor refers you to Cheyenne Radiology for a PET scan, what does that mean, exactly?

First, it means you’re in good hands. Cheyenne Radiology is a Diagnostic Imaging Center of Excellence with a team of experienced, skilled radiologists who use PET scans to diagnose a variety of conditions.

A PET scan is a nuclear medicine imaging technique that produces a 3-D image of functional processes of the body. It will inspect the blood flow, oxygen intake and metabolism of your organs and tissues and is commonly used to detect cancer, brain disorders like epilepsy and Alzheimer’s, heart problems, and problems with the central nervous system. Unlike other imaging tests – like a CT or MRI – a PET scan will show problems at a cellular level and provides the best view of complex systemic diseases.

When used to detect cancer, a PET scan will show how the cancer has metabolized, how it’s responding to chemotherapy, and whether the cancer has spread or recurred.

How does a PET scan work?

PET is a type of nuclear medicine. This means that a small amount of radioactive material, called a radiotracer (or radiopharmaceutical or radionuclide) is used to perform the procedure. The radiotracers used in PET scans are made by attaching a radioactive atom to chemical substances that are used naturally by the particular organ or tissue during its metabolic process, like glucose or oxygen.

At the beginning of a procedure the radiotracer is injected into your body. Positrons are emitted by the breakdown of the radiotracer, and gamma rays are created during the emission of positrons. Your radiologist detects the gamma rays with a scanner. A computer analyzes the gamma rays and uses the information to create an image map of the organ or tissues being examined.

“Active” cells, where more of the radiotracer has been collected, show up brightly in the image. Compared with normal cells, cancer cells are very active in using glucose. A radiotracer made with glucose will light up areas of cancer.

Often, our radiologists will combine a PET and CT scan to retrieve an even more detailed, multidimensional image of the inner workings of your body. Doing so, we are not only able to see what your body looks like, but also how it is functioning. The combined scans can provide an even more accurate diagnosis.

What happens next?

It usually takes 45-60 minutes for the radiotracer to travel through your body and to be absorbed the organ or tissue being studied. Scanning takes an additional 30-60 minutes, for a total of about 2 hours. Your radiologist will then examine the images from your scan and share the results with your referring doctor. You can request a copy of your results from your doctor or from us at Cheyenne Radiology.