Together We Can -- Newsletter of the Joan Karnell Cancer Center

Fall 2003

Technological Advancements in Treatment of Breast Cancer
PET Scan Techonology
Every Step of the Way
Knowledge is Power
Supportive Care Programs for Women with Breast Cancer
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PET Scan Technology

In the treatment of cancer, early detection is key. Physicians at Pennsylvania Hospital have a powerful diagnostic tool, Positron Emission Tomography (PET), that is helping them not only make a diagnosis sooner, but also determine the best course of treatment.

The PennPET Center at Pennsylvania Hospital opened in March 2003. As part of Pennsylvania Hospital's comprehensive cancer program, PET is a valuable step in the early stages of diagnosis and treatment.

PET is only appropriate for certain cancers such as lung, lymphoma, and head and neck. Patients should also check insurance coverage as it may be limited to only certain conditions.

When used, it can precisely locate a tumor, detect if it is benign or malignant and even determine a patient's response to chemotherapy and/or radiation. For patients who have already been diagnosed with cancer, a PET scan can determine the source and extent of the cancer and can often eliminate the need for additional diagnostic procedures.

“The availability of PET to the patients and physicians of Pennsylvania Hospital is representative of the strong commitment on the part of this institution to cancer treatment,” according to Dr. Bruce Kneeland, chair of the department of radiology.

PET imaging changes patient management in 30% to 40% of cases because of its sensitivity to the presence of early metastatic deposits not seen with other imaging modalities. This is especially true for involvement of lymph nodes before they have become sufficiently enlarged to be detected by computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), as well as the skeleton. In patients who have undergone treatment, PET imaging can also frequently detect lymph nodes involved by tumor from fibrosis.

A PET scan works by measuring the body's metabolic activity. The PET scan procedure begins with a simple injection of FDG (fluorideoxyglucose), a radiopharmaceutical about one hour before the scan. The FDG is metabolized by the body and emits signals, which are picked up by the PET scanner. A computer then reassembles the signals into images. Cancer cells show up more brightly on the scan because they are more metabolically active than non-cancerous cells. Results are usually ready within 48 hours of the procedure.

A PET scan differs from other imaging systems such as CT or MRI because it shows how the body is functioning. It can often identify abnormal activity, such as tumor growth, before it is visible on an MRI or CT, which looks at the structure of the body.

With the advent of image “fusion” techniques, which have just become available at Pennsylvania Hospital,PET images can be directly superimposed on CT images allowing a comparison of the metabolic changes seen with PET and the changes in structure seen with CT. According to Dr. Gary Greene, chief of the section of nuclear medicine, this provides greater accuracy than either modality. And an improved diagnosis can make all the difference.

For more information on the PET Scan Center at Pennsylvania Hospital, call 1-800-789-PENN (7366). You can also request an appointment online.


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Need an appointment? Request one online 24 hours/day, 7 days/week or call 800-789-PENN (7366) to speak to a referral counselor.

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