The majority of PET scans are performed for oncologic applications. Physicians utilize PET scans for diagnosing, staging and evaluating treatments for their cancer patients. A PET scan helps the physician distinguish between living and dead tissue or between benign and malignant disorders, unlike other imaging technologies which merely confirm the presence of a mass. PET imaging provides the physician with additional information about cellular activity which guides the characterization of a questionable abnormality as malignant or benign.
A PET scan can show the extent of disease. For patients whose cancer is newly diagnosed, it is important to determine if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body so that appropriate treatment can be started. A PET scan images the entire body in a single examination, and aids the physician in detecting the primary site(s) as well as any metastases. Painful, costly and invasive surgery, such as thoracotomy, may no longer be necessary for diagnosis.
A PET scan can also help physicians monitor the treatment of disease. For example, chemotherapy leads to changes in cellular activity that is observable by PET imaging long before structural changes can be measured by ultrasound, X-ray, MRI or CT scans. This gives physicians an alternative technique to evaluate treatments earlier, perhaps even leading to modifications in treatment, before an evaluation would normally be made using other imaging technologies.
After treatment is complete, a PET scan allows the physician to investigate suspected recurrence of cancer, revealing tumors that might otherwise be obscured by scar tissue resulting from surgery and radiation therapy.
A PET scan puts time on your side. The earlier the diagnosis and the more accurate the assessment of the extent of disease, the better the chance for successful treatment.