What Is a PET Scan?

Hearing doctors talk can be like listening to another language. The Latin words and endless, complex abbreviations can be a nightmare for the rest of us. What does all of it mean? To help you communicate with your doctor, we’re trying to take the mystery out of some of these terms. Today, we’ll tackle a standard medical test: the PET scan.

PET Scans Versus CT Scans – What’s the Difference?

Hearing about PET scans and CAT scans might make you think your doctor has an unhealthy (but adorable!) obsession with animals, but these names describe the goal of each scan. A CT scan (the more appropriate term for CAT scans) is a 3D X-ray. The CT machine takes dozens of still pictures at once. When viewed together, these images provide a complete view of the inside of your body.

While CT scans are concerned with the structure of your organs, a PET scan shows their function. PET stands for Positron Emission Tomography. We will inject a special contrast dye, usually a radioactive sugar, into your veins that shows up clearly in the images. The PET scan allows us to see where and how your cells absorb the sugar, which tells us a lot about your health. At Southtowns Radiology, we use a machine that combines both technologies by obtaining a CT scan and a PET scan at the same time, when necessary.

When Is a PET Scan Needed?

There are many good uses for PET scans, but these are the most common:

Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment

Since cancer cells metabolize sugar differently than normal body cells, PET scans often provide the clearest view of how cancer cells are developing. The PET scan might be the best way to tell whether a cancer is spreading. They can also reveal whether your current treatment is working. About 90 percent of PET scans are used for this purpose.

Cardiovascular Health

Heart attacks usually only damage a portion of the heart muscle. Since these damaged areas will have unusual blood flow and metabolism, the contrast dye used in PET scanning gives a clear idea of what area of the heart muscle is damaged.

If you plan on scheduling a PET/CT scan and are wondering how to prepare, we’ve already got you covered. But this is just one of the services we provide. We’re proud to say we can help with all your medical imaging needs. Contact us today to find out how we can help.

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