Positron Emission Tomography – Computed Tomography (PET/CT)

Positron emission tomography (PET) uses small amounts of radioactive materials called radiotracers, a special camera and a computer to help evaluate your organ and tissue functions. By identifying body changes at the cellular level, PET may detect the early onset of disease before it is evident on other imaging tests.

Make an appointment

Call us at 925-467-1400 to schedule an appointment for a PET/CT exam.

What are some common uses of PET/CT?

PET and PET/CT scans are performed to:

  • detect cancer.
  • determine whether a cancer has spread in the body.
  • assess the effectiveness of a treatment plan, such as cancer therapy.
  • determine if a cancer has returned after treatment.
  • determine blood flow to the heart muscle.
  • determine the effects of a heart attack, or myocardial infarction, on areas of the heart.
  • identify areas of the heart muscle that would benefit from a procedure such as angioplasty or coronary artery bypass surgery (in combination with a myocardial perfusion scan).
  • evaluate brain abnormalities, such as tumors, memory disorders, seizures and other central nervous system disorders.
  • map normal human brain and heart function

How should I prepare for a PET/CT exam?

You may be asked to wear a gown during the exam or you may be allowed to wear your own clothing.

Women should always inform their physician or technologist if there is any possibility that they are pregnant or if they are breastfeeding.

You should inform your physician and the technologist performing your exam of any medications you are taking, including vitamins and herbal supplements. You should also inform them if you have any allergies and about recent illnesses or other medical conditions.

You will receive specific instructions based on the type of PET scan you are undergoing. Diabetic patients will receive special instructions to prepare for this exam.

If you are breastfeeding at the time of the exam, you should ask your radiologist or the doctor ordering the exam how to proceed. It may help to pump breast milk ahead of time and keep it on hand for use after the PET radiopharmaceutical and CT contrast material are no longer in your body.

Metal objects including jewelry, eyeglasses, dentures and hairpins may affect the CT images and should be left at home or removed prior to your exam. You may also be asked to remove hearing aids and removable dental work.

Generally, you will be asked not to eat anything for several hours before a whole body PET/CT scan since eating may alter the distribution of the PET tracer in your body and can lead to a suboptimal scan. This could require the scan to be repeated on another day, so following instructions regarding eating is very important. You should not drink any liquids containing sugars or calories for several hours before the scan. Instead, you are encouraged to drink water. If you are diabetic, you may be given special instructions. You should inform your physician of any medications you are taking and if you have any allergies, especially to contrast materials, iodine, or seafood.

You will be asked and checked for any conditions that you may have that may increase the risk of receiving intravenous contrast material.

What will I experience during and after the exam?

Except for intravenous injections, most nuclear medicine procedures are painless and are rarely associated with significant discomfort or side effects.

When the radiotracer is given intravenously, you will feel a slight pin prick when the needle is inserted into your vein for the intravenous line. When the radioactive material is injected into your arm, you may feel a cold sensation moving up your arm, but there are generally no other side effects.

When swallowed, the radiotracer has little or no taste. When inhaled, you should feel no differently than when breathing room air or holding your breath.

With some procedures, a catheter may be placed into your bladder, which may cause temporary discomfort.

It is important that you remain still while the images are being recorded. Though nuclear imaging itself causes no pain, there may be some discomfort from having to remain still or to stay in one particular position during imaging.

If you are claustrophobic, you may feel some anxiety while you are being scanned.

Unless your physician tells you otherwise, you may resume your normal activities after your nuclear medicine scan. If any special instructions are necessary, you will be informed by a technologist, nurse or physician before you leave the nuclear medicine department.

Through the natural process of radioactive decay, the small amount of radiotracer in your body will lose its radioactivity over time. It may also pass out of your body through your urine or stool during the first few hours or days following the test. You should also drink plenty of water to help flush the radioactive material out of your body as instructed by the nuclear medicine personnel.