The PET scan can help save lives. Known in full as “positron emission tomography,” it is an imaging technique that allows a doctor or oncologist to see how your body is functioning in certain places. The test uses color to determine not how your body looks (i.e. its structure) but instead how it is working. Or, in many cases, why it’s not working.
The PET scan uses radioactive particles that are either injected or inhaled as a gas. This “tracer” is actually just a natural element such as carbon or nitrogen that has been changed so it gives off “positrons.” Hence its name. When a positron collides with an electron in the body, it produces a “gamma ray.” These gamma rays are detected by the PET scanning machine. A computer figures out what’s happening, and creates an image of how an organ is working.
It can detect cancer. For cases where cancer is already known, the scan can tell a doctor how well treatment is working. That is crucial because it might need to be changed or altered. How does it do this? The gamma ray turns up in certain colors that indicate what’s happening with a tissue or organ. Cancerous tissue will appear much brighter than healthy tissue. In all, the PET scan will detect tumors, figure out how far it has spread, and determine the effectiveness of treatment.
The PET scan also allows a doctor to see how well the heart muscle is working. This is critical for people with heart disease. It can also detect artery disease by seeing how well blood is flowing to the heart. It can help doctors figure out what is causing a problem so they can treat it correctly.
It also focuses on the brain. PET scans can evaluate things like Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, Parkinson’s, and dementia. They are helpful for figuring out what’s causing memory disorders in a patient. They can also detect a brain tumor or seizure disorder that wouldn’t respond to a certain therapy. Thus, they can save time by getting right to what needs to be done.
The scan is over in a day and you go home. All it takes is fasting for five hours before the test and drinking lots of water. Now, in the exam room, you do an initial scan before the tracer is injected or inhaled. Then you are slid back into the scanner and asked to remain still. For claustrophobic patients, the best bet is to close your eyes. You don’t feel anything and the tracer disappears in a short time span, having no side effects.
The procedure takes anywhere from a half hour to two hours. It all depends on the size of the area being scanned. After it’s done, you are free to head home. All in all, it’s safe and easy and could save your life. Everyone should understand it.