What is the meaning of a PET scan? Let's start with its definition, first of all, the name of PET scan stands for Positron Emission Tomography. PET scan uses a radioactive tracer to detect the differences such as blood flow, use of oxygen, uptake of sugar molecules and metabolism in organs and tissues. This procedure helps doctors to see how certain organs such as lungs, brain or heart are functioning. Nowadays PET scan is usually paired with CT (Computed Tomography); therefore another popular name for this test is PET/CT scan. During one session, the combined results of these two devices have higher reliability than when they are performed separately. Generally, PET/CT scan is used for cancer detection, diagnosis, and staging in the whole body. Lung cancer, prostate cancer, cervical cancer, breast cancer and many other types of cancer can be detected with this imaging technique.
While it is a popular and safe procedure, people might still have many questions regarding PET scan. How does PET scan preparation process look? How accurate are the PET scan results? How long does a pet scan take? Finally – what is the cost of PET scan? We will try to address all these questions and other matters in 5 simple steps.
1. What Is the Difference Between PET Scan And PET/CT Scan?
First, we should take a look at the comparisons of CT vs. PET Scan or MRI vs. PET Scan. Conventional imaging techniques such as CT or MRI scan may be shown the size and shape of body organs and tissue, but they cannot detect their functions. A PET scan which uses a small amount of radioactive material injected and then dissolved throughout the body through blood circulation is able to show how an organ works, but without a CT or MRI image, it can be difficult to localize the precise position of activity within the body. Therefore, combining a PET scan with a CT scan which uses X-ray to create cross-sectional images of the body can give a more extensive and detailed picture of the patient's current situation.
2. Is The Radiation In PET Scan Dangerous?
Radiation in large doses may lead to serious tissue damage and increase cancer risk. The low doses of radiation used for imaging tests may also increase cancer risk slightly, but it’s important to put this risk into a proper perspective and share the concerns with the healthcare team. A PET/CT scan has about 25 mSv of radiation. To understand this level, we may compare it with the background radiation of our houses. 25 mSv of radiation is equal to about 8 years of average background radiation exposure. Keep in mind, the largest source of background radiation (about 2 mSv per year) is radon, a natural gas found in our homes.
Besides, the iodine-based contrast dye used for the CT component in a PET/CT scan may lead to some side effects such as nausea, vomiting, headache, itching, and flushing.
3. How Does PET Scan Preparation And Procedure Look?
PET scan preparation is not a complicated process. Patients are asked to share all the medical conditions they are dealing with as well as all medications taken. Your doctor will tell you everything about the PET Scan preparation process. As a piece of general information, a few days before undergoing the PET Scan, you should avoid heavy physical activity. A day before your appointment, you probably will be asked to follow a low-carbohydrate and no-sugar diet. At this stage, you should avoid some foods and beverages such as pasta, bread, rice, milk and yogurt, alcohol, caffeinated beverages, and candies.
Finally, patients are advised to wear comfortable, loose clothes or hospital garment for their PET/CT scan test. The procedure itself is quite short and easy. After the injection of radioactive material, patients wait for around an hour. Then they are asked to empty their bladders and lie in PET/CT scanner. Scanning takes half an hour.
4. Are PET Scan Results Reliable?
Using PET scan for cancer detection is a popular, successful practice. PET/CT scan, combining the findings of both these techniques, makes even more detailed and accurate results possible. Especially in the case of some diseases, PET scan is the most successful detection device, helpful in early diagnosis and therefore significantly increases the possibility of full recovery. For example, a study suggests that PET/CT scan can precisely detect and diagnose breast cancer recurrence and is more accurate than contrast-enhanced CT scans and bone scintigraphy.
5. How Much Can the PET Scan Cost?
A PET scan cost varies especially depending on where you live and the facility you use. A conventional PET scan may cost from $1,000 to $2,000. For a whole-body PET/CT scan, the price can reach well above $6,000 in the USA. However, as for all medical procedures, you may find more affordable alternatives in different countries such as Turkey, Poland or India. For example, it may cost as low as $500 in India, $600 in Turkey. Because of the big difference in prices, more cost-aware patients opt for having their PET/CT scan test abroad.
This content is edited by Flymedi Medical Editors in April 2019.