A new positron emission tomography machine at Upstate University Hospital can reveal the onset of a disease process before anatomical changes would show up on other types of imaging scans.
PET scans rely on a radiotracer — a radioactive atom attached to a chemical substance — to be able to show metabolic changes in an organ or tissue at the cellular level. The chemical substance used depends on the area being studied. Glucose is used for PET scans of the brain, for instance, because the brain uses glucose for its metabolism.
Patients receive the radiotracer through an intravenous line. It circulates through the body for about an hour, attracting the cells of interest, which then show up in the series of images taken by radiology technicians.
Cancer doctors often use PET scans for help determining the stage of a cancer, to detect its spread or to follow the progress of treatment. PET scans are also used in the diagnosis of neurological conditions, to assess cardiac function and for other reasons – and they may be done in conjunction with other tests and imaging scans.
This article appears in the winter 2017 issue of Upstate Health magazine.