If your physician has suggested a PET scan, then you likely have many questions. Answers to frequently asked questions regarding the PET scan procedure can be found below:
What does a PET scan show?
A PET scan may be ordered for many reasons. Its sensitivity and accurate imaging make it ideal for detecting cancerous tissue, determining if a tumor is malignant or benign and showing if cancer has spread to other parts of the body. It may also be used to determine how successful a cancer drug has been and what stage a cancer has progressed to.
Where are PET scans performed?
PET scan equipment is expensive and very large. For this reason, PET scans are typically performed within a hospital or doctor’s office. Cancer research facilities may also have PET scan equipment on hand.
How long does a PET scan take?
PET scans related to cancer usually begin with the injection of a radioactive drug. This drug, called a tracer, spreads throughout the body and highlights any cancerous tissue that may be present. Following injection, most patients are asked to wait about an hour to allow for the drug to effectively spread throughout the body.
The length required to do the scan itself will vary depending on the size and location of organs targeted. However, most scans take about an hour to complete. To help pass the time, many clinics have music available for your enjoyment. You may also consider asking a friend or family member to sit in the room with you.
How should I prepare for a PET scan?
It is generally recommended that the patient not eat for four to six hours prior to the procedure. However, this may vary depending on the location of the scan.
Metal objects should also be removed and left at home prior to the scan. This includes earrings, dentures and piercings.
Am I under anesthetic?
No, PET scans are performed while the patient is awake. Similar to X-rays and other imaging equipment, patients shouldn’t feel a thing while the procedure is taking place.
Does a PET scan hurt?
No, you should feel no pain during a PET scan. However, you will be asked to lie completely still for an extended period of time. This may lead to slight discomfort, or at the very least impatience or boredom.
Depending on the area of the body that the PET scan is targeting, your head may be encapsulated in a small space for the duration of the imaging. For some, this may trigger claustrophobia. If at any time during the procedure you feel uncomfortable, you will be able to press a buzzer that alerts the doctor or technician.
Are there any side effects from a PET scan?
No side effects are associated with a PET scan. The radioactive drug injected into the patient is quickly eliminated from the body and poses a very low risk for radiation exposure to the patient. Additionally, there is little risk of radiation exposure to friends and family.
Some physicians may recommend that the patient avoid close contact with babies and pregnant women immediately following the procedure. This is because the radiation in your body has yet to be excreted and may effect young children. For similar reasons, new mothers may need to avoid breast-feeding for up to six hours following the procedure.
Who operates the machine?
Registered nuclear medicine technologists typically perform PET scans under the supervision of a physician. Technologists are specially trained to perform diagnostic procedures, and likely have received post-graduate education pertaining to the field.
How long before I get results?
The images of a PET scan are almost immediate, however it may take between 24 and 48 hours before the results are printed and analyzed by your doctor or radiologist. For many patients, the results of the scan are relayed to them the day following the procedure.
Does my whole body go in the machine?
The level of insertion into the machine depends on the target area in your body to be analyzed. The PET scanner is a large machine with a round opening. You will lay flat on a table that will be slid into the machine. While the whole body may not be inserted, patients are typically slid in headfirst, which may lead to feelings of claustrophobia.
Are PET scans covered by insurance?
Insurance programs and Medicare cover PET scans for many disorders and cancers. For those without insurance, payment assistance may be available.