What Is a PET Scan, and Does It Help Fight Cancer?


Quick Answer

A PET scan is an imaging test that measures blood flow, oxygen use, glucose metabolism and other body processes, according to Healthline. It is commonly used to detect cancers because it shows tissue abnormalities at the cellular level.

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Full Answer

A doctor can use a PET scan to watch how a cancer metabolizes and spreads and monitor how well treatment is working, states Healthline. Radioactive tracers in a special dye are injected into a vein in the arm where they are absorbed by the body's organs and tissues. A PET scan highlights these tracers. There is very little risk involved in a PET scan, with the exposure to radiation being minimal and too low to affect the body's functioning. However, fetuses should not be exposed to any radiation whatsoever, so PET scans are not recommended for pregnant women.

To prepare for a PET scan, patients abstain from food for up to eight hours, though they are still allowed to drink water, reports Healthline. Diabetics may need special consideration, and no metal is allowed. The tracers are administered through an IV in the arm, a drinkable solution or inhaled gas. To allow the body to absorb the tracers sufficiently, patients must wait for one hour before the scan can begin.

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