Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scan

A Position Emission Tomography (PET) scan is one of the most advanced forms of imaging technology available to view the human body. What a PET scan does so masterfully is find tumors, measure blood flow and help treat seizures. It’s used to locate suspected abnormal growths as well as those that might have spread. Mary Greeley Medical Center is one of just a few hospitals in Iowa to offer PET scans.

How PET Works

A PET scan involves a fairly simple, noninvasive process. Similar to a nuclear medicine scan, the procedure uses a radioactive tracer to produce images. PET detects biochemical changes after a radioactive glucose compound is injected into the body. As the body metabolizes the glucose, the PET scan uses the particles emitted by the tracers to produce images. A tumor, for example, would absorb the tracer and show as a dark spot.  

Common Uses for PET at Mary Greeley Medical Center

PET is most frequently used in the treatment of cancer, heart disease and neurological disorders.

  • Cancer: A PET scan provides vital and timely information that can alter the course of treatment and can sometimes help in avoiding unwarranted surgery. PET shows if a tumor is cancerous, the extent of the cancer, whether it has spread to other organs, or whether it has recurred. This information, in turn, helps to determine what types of therapy would be effective.
  • Heart disease: PET provides the highest accuracy level of any non-invasive procedure for measuring blood flow and the extent of heart muscle damage. For heart disease patients, a PET scan is the most definitive test to determine the value and potential risks of heart surgery. The particular PET scan used for heart disease patients is called single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) imaging. This can also help your doctor determine if your coronary artery disease may make you more likely to have a heart attack.
  • Brain: A PET scan can locate the areas of the brain causing epileptic seizures and determine if surgery is an option. It can also study the brain's blood flow and metabolic activity to help diagnose nervous system problems, such as Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, transient ischemic attack (TIA), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Huntington's disease, stroke, and schizophrenia. PET may help diagnose Alzheimer's disease, particularly when symptoms are unclear or the patient is younger than 65.

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