The PET CT Scan is one of the sought after diagnostic tests. Let’s find out more about what is a PET CT and why is it preferred over other diagnostic tests, such as an MRI, CT Scan or an ultrasound.
What is a PET Scan?
A PET Scan is a nuclear medicine technique which produces images of the human body at a molecular level.
A PET CT uses radioactive tracers in conjugation with isotopes such as oxygen, nitrogen, carbon etc. These radioisotopes act at a molecular level and work as probes which seek out disease, cancer in the body while giving out radio signals which are captured to produce an image.
This can help in the diagnosis of even the tiniest lesions, thus increasing the accuracy of the investigation, subsequent diagnosis and hence cancer treatment.
A PET CT Scan, therefore reveals a lot more about the body than standard diagnostic tests such as MRI, CT Scan or an ultrasound.
What happens during a PET Scan?
A PET CT Scan, is always on a price appointment basis as the radioisotopes, having a very short half-life need to be brought in just before the scan.
A PET CT, is usually carried out empty stomach on overnight or at least 6 hrs fasting.
The creatinine levels, need to checked prior to conducting the PET CT by simple blood tests called KFT or Kidney function test
If the creatinine levels are in order, the patient is tested for blood sugar and if found in order, the patient is given an injection of glucose with a radioactive tracer.
After the injection, the patient is made to rest for about 90 mins and then taken for the actual scan which takes about 30 mins to 45 mins depending on the imaging required.
During the scan, the patient is made to lie on a comfortable table that moves slowly through the ring like PET scanner.
After the scan, the patient can leave immediately. However close contact with others especially children and pregnant women is best avoided for the next 4-6 hrs.
It is also good to drink a lot of water, to flush out the radioactive tracer from the body.
The imaging can be seen by the doctors and the nuclear medicine specialists almost immediately for evaluation, though a formal written report takes a day to be handed over to the patient.
Are there any side effects or discomfort due to the scan?
There are no side effects or discomfort due to the PET CT Scan, except the minor prick while injecting the tracer.
The PET CT scanner also does not make any sounds while the scan is going on, unlike a few other diagnostics tests.
What are the diseases for which a PET CT Scan can be used?
The most common use case for a PET CT Scan is for detecting and treating cancer. However other applications, include diagnosing cardiac or heart problems and also neurology.
During the initial stages of the disease, a PET CT helps distinguish between benign and malignant disease and also cancer staging, that is knowing and determining the stage of the disease and also its characteristics, which further helps oncologists decide the best treatment option for the patient.
During the course of treatment, it helps determine response to therapy or cancer treatment and if the metabolic activity decreases on the PET CT Scan, the oncologists know that the drugs being administered are working.
On the other hand, if the metabolic activity on the scan increases, it indicates that the treatment option is losing its efficacy or is not working and helps oncologists change the line of treatment to benefit the patient.
Cardiac Care: Post a heart attack, a PET CT Scan can be used to determine myopathy, need for CABG or open heart surgery and if there would be any benefit from CABG or would a heart transplant or an LVAD be a better treatment option.
Neurology: Alzheimer’s at an early stage can be diagnosed using a PET Scan leading to early intervention.
A PET CT Scan helps locate tumors, distinguish between benign and malignant tumors and also scar tissue for brain surgery.
A PET CT is also useful for the treatment of epileptic seizures. It can help locate the origin and focus of seizures and assess sites for intervention if any is required.
What is the difference between a PET CT and an MRI or a CT ?
A CT or an MRI works on the physical level and can give the size and location of the tumor with accuracy.
However since both tests do not work on the molecular level, they cannot indicate metabolic activity of the tumor which only a PET CT Scan can indicate, thereby making a PET CT, a diagnostic test of choice for oncologists, cardiologists, cardiac or heart surgeons and interventional neurologists.
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