What is Positron Emission Tomography Used For

By  ,  Onlymyhealth editorial team
Feb 24, 2011

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Quick Bites

  • PET scan helps study the brain's blood flow and metabolic activity.
  • It finds changes in the brain that may cause epilepsy.
  • Also evaluates some cancers, especially lymphoma.
  • PET even helps a doctor choose the best treatment for cancer.

A positron emission tomography, commonly known as PET, is and imaging test that discloses how your body's tissues and organs are functioning. It uses a radioactive drug (tracer) to show this activity. The doctor may inject the tracer into your body, or could ask you to inhale or swallow it. The way of using the tracer depends on the organ or tissue is to be studied.

The tracer works by collecting in body areas that have higher levels of chemical activity which often represents the areas of disease. The faulty body areas show up as bright spots in the PET scan. Doctors may prescribe a PET scan for detecting and evaluating several conditions, such as cancers, heart diseases and brain disorders.

Why a PET Scan is Done


Brain's blood flow and metabolic activity can be studies through a PET scan. Your doctor may detect nervous system problems like Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, transient ischemic attack (TIA), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Huntington's disease, stroke, and schizophrenia with it.

Uses of PET Scan

It helps find changes in the brain that may cause epilepsy.

A PET scan also aids in evaluating some  cancers, especially lymphoma or cancers of the head and neck, brain, lung, colon, or prostate. A PET scan can show early stages of cancer more clearly than a CT scan or an MRI.

It helps a doctor to diagnose the advancement of  cancer and whether it has metasized (spread to other areas of the body). Many-a-times, a PET scan is done in addition to a CT scan in order to evaluate cancer.

Doctors may use a PET scan report to decide on the course of treatment for a cancer patient and check if it is working. A PET scan may also give them an idea if a surgery must be done to remove a tumour.

Alzheimer's disease can be detected through a PET scan when its symptoms aren't clear or the person has dementia symptoms at a young age. This is called amyloid imaging.

When the blood flow to the heart is poor, and may indicate a coronary artery disease, a PET scan may help find it. IT also finds damaged heart tissue, especially after a heart attack.

The doctors again can use a PET scan to choose the best treatment for coronary artery bypass graft surgery, for a  person with heart disease.

Image Courtesy: Getty

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