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Since its introduction in the 1970s, positron emission tomography (PET) has advanced considerably. In 2005, an estimated 1,129,900 clinical PET patient studies were performed around the country.
*Source: Society of Nuclear Medicine

Understanding PET/CT

Positron emission tomography (PET) describes an imaging test that uses a radioactive substance called a tracer to show the metabolism and the function of cells. Computed tomography (CT), meanwhile, uses X-ray technology to show changes in the physical size or structure of internal organs. PET/CT combines both of these diagnostic tools into a single procedure, giving physicians an enhanced ability to accurately diagnose and treat disease such as cancer.

Additionally, these scans add a new dimension to your WellStar physician’s ability to diagnose diseases earlier and without invasive surgery as well as manage treatment more effectively throughout the course of the illness. The test can also check brain function, heart issues and blood flow.

PET/CT can be vital in diagnosing and staging many types of cancer including lung, head/neck, esophageal, colorectal, melanoma, lymphoma and breast. Appropriate staging can greatly improve a patient’s prognosis by pinpointing disease before it can be detected by other, less-advanced imaging technologies. Such early and accurate detection is critical for planning appropriate therapy. PET-CT is also extremely useful for determining if a patient is responding to a particular treatment, helping Wellstar physicians create an optimal treatment plan.

Because PET/CT involves exposure to radiation, both in the form of X-rays and radioactive material, concerns arise about the risks. WellStar technologists and radiologists always use the smallest possible dose of radiation necessary. Experts including WellStar radiologists and other physicians believe that the information gathered through a PET/CT scan outweigh the minimal risks of radiation exposure.

WellStar Resources and Support

WellStar uses state-of-the-art equipment and innovative digital systems integrated into all of its imaging technologies to ensure quality images at minimum dose levels.

PET/CT is available at WellStar Kennestone Imaging Center at 340 Building.

Before the Procedure

  • The night before a PET/CT exam, you must not eat or drink anything after midnight. However, if your appointment is after 1 p.m., you may eat a light, low fat breakfast with no sugar before 7 a.m. Such a breakfast might include wheat toast and an egg.
  • If you are diabetic, let your physician know so that our imaging specialists can make special arrangements for you to safely take the exam, although your blood sugar must be under 180 under all examination circumstances.
  • You should avoid clothing that has any metal snaps or zippers, and you should refrain from wearing jewelry or watches, although rings are acceptable. If you wear elastic or drawstring pants, you might not be required to wear a gown.
  • You should inform your WellStar physician or radiologist if you believe you might be pregnant or if you are breastfeeding.
  • You should also inform your physician of any allergies.
  • You should also mention to the doctor if you are claustrophobic.
  • If you are unable to keep your appointment, please give your WellStar radiologist at least a 24-hour notice. The radiopharmaceutical for your examination is prepared specifically for you and cannot be re-used or recycled.

During the Procedure

  • For each examination, you will be asked to provide your medical history and review it with a technologist, who will also explain the procedure.
  • At the start of the exam, you will receive an injection of a radiopharmaceutical through a small needle placed in a vein. For most studies, you will wait for the radioactive material to distribute through the area of your body under examination, a process that typically takes from 60 to 90 minutes. For brain scans, you will also be asked to wait in a quiet, dark room so as not to stimulate the brain.
  • The technologist will then help you onto the examining table that slides slowly into the circular opening of the CT scanner and then through the PET portion of the scanner. This PET/CT scanner features an open area between the CT and the PET, giving the technologists access to the patient between scans and the patient a short break. During the entire exam, you need to remain as still as possible since movement can blur the images.
  • The entire scan is painless and image acquisition will last for about 30 minutes to an hour. Due to the injection time and the necessary waiting time for the radiopharmaceutical distribution, the entire examination period will last from two to three hours.

After the Procedure

Once the examination is completed, you may resume most normal activities. The injected radiopharmaceutical does not remain in your system very long, but to be safe, please wait for a few hours before getting close to an infant or anyone who’s pregnant.