What is a PET/CT scan?
Positron emission tomography (PET) uses small amounts of radioactive materials called radiotracers, a special camera and a computer to help evaluate your organ and tissue functions. By identifying body changes at the cellular level, PET scans may detect the early onset of disease before it is evident on other imaging tests.
When compared to a regular computed tomography scan (CT scan), PET/CT scans provide greater detail with a higher level of accuracy; because both scans are performed at one time without the patient having to change positions, there is less room for error. It also has greater convenience for the patient who undergoes two exams (CT and PET) at one sitting, rather than at two different times.
Benefits of a PET/CT scan
A PET/CT scan is a hybrid of two technologies- it has a CT component, which allows the doctor to see the anatomy, and the PET scan portion allows for the viewing of the physiology. With a PET/CT scan, we can look at body parts and see how they’re functioning depending on what kind of chemical tracer we give to the patient. Typically, this is used in cancer detection to see if something is active or not. It can also be used to look at the brain and brain functioning in patients with dementia.
PET/CT has the advantage of being both a physiological examination and an anatomic examination. The hybrid technology has widely been accepted by oncologists all over the world, thereby validating its excellent technical performance, clinical utility and scientific potential. So much so, in fact, that the main imaging vendors in the market are no longer producing standalone PET scanners and, consequently, only PET/CT machines are now sold new into the market. As a result of the great improvements in technology and growing evidence that a PET/CT examination demonstrates superior diagnostic performance over separate PET and CT exams that are interpreted side by side, there has been significant growth in the usage of PET/CT scans in clinical practice.
How does PET/CT help in treatment?
Even though more data is needed, clinical experience thus far has demonstrated that PET/CT has a substantial impact on patient management and the identification of appropriate surgery, radiotherapy or alternate treatment needed. In therapy planning, PET/CT can better define the target and the strategy of the treatment and can help reliably identify appropriate subsets of patients who will likely not respond to therapy. This approach can prevent unnecessary rejection of various treatment options through the observation of only targeted patients, rather than looking at the overall results of a large study population. Thus it is possible for patients to avoid ineffective and toxic treatments and instead get the benefits of an optimized therapy plan.
The costs associated with PET/CT are relatively high compared to other imaging procedures. But since PET/CT has been found to better assist physicians in identifying appropriate treatment, the extra cost translates into improved quality of care. Also, the cost of other therapeutic interventions, which may not be needed with the use of PET/CT, can be much greater than those associated with diagnostic imaging procedures.