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Buffalo Hospital

Positron emission tomography/computed tomography (PET/CT)

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Buffalo Hospital offers patients a powerful new diagnostic imaging system known as PET/CT. This hybrid technology combines the strengths of two imaging systems to more accurately diagnose and locate cancers while increasing patient comfort.

PET/CTs are commonly used by doctors to determine whether a patient has cancer, if it’s spreading, whether their treatment is working or if there’s a recurrence. A PET/CT scan is noninvasive and painless. Along with providing better imaging data, it increases patient comfort and convenience by reducing the number of scanning sessions a patient must undergo.

About PET and CT

PET, or positron emission tomography, monitors the biochemical functioning of cells by detecting how they process certain compounds, such as glucose (sugar). Cancer cells metabolize glucose at a much higher level than normal tissues. By detecting increased glucose use with a high degree of sensitivity, PET identifies cancerous cells - even at an early stage when other tests may miss them. CT, or computed tomography, yields a detailed picture of the body’s anatomical structures by taking cross-sectional images or X-ray slices of the body, showing the precise size and location of tumors necessary for diagnosis and treatment planning.

While PET/CT is primarily used in cancer treatment, it also has applications in cardiology and brain imaging.

What to expect

For the PET portion of the exam, you will receive an injection of radioactive material similar to what is used for bone scans and other nuclear medicine exams. This is a radioactive tracer that must pass multiple quality control measures before it is used for any patient injection. PET radiopharmaceuticals lose their radioactivity very quickly (two hours) and only very small amounts are injected.

For most studies, you will have to wait for the radiopharmaceutical to distribute itself — typically 30 minutes to an hour. During the exam, you will lie very still on a comfortable table that will move slowly through the scanner as it acquires the information needed to generate diagnostic images.

How long will all this take?

The PET/CT scan should last between 20 and 45 minutes. The exam procedure can vary depending on what we are looking for and what we discover along the way. Plan to spend two to three hours with us.