What is a PET Scan and How Long Does it Take?

A PET scan evaluates organs, tissues, and function. Its most common use is in the detection and treatment of cancer. Other uses include Huntington’s disease, a hereditary, progressive disease of the nervous system that causes bizarre involuntary movements, abnormal posture, and increasing dementia. The process is also helpful in the diagnosis of epilepsy, a disease of the brain.

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A PET scanner is similar to an MRI or CT machine, but instead of a radioactive material, it uses a radiotracer. It collects the energy emitted by the radiotracer by using multiple ring detectors. Because of the way the machine works, it is an outpatient procedure. The patient must arrive at least 30 minutes early. It is important to refrain from eating or drinking for at least four hours before the scan.

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During a PET scan, the PET machine picks up radioactive material called FDG. This radiotracer is attached to a natural chemical, glucose. This radiotracer accumulates in cells that use glucose for energy. These areas will appear on the computer reconstructed images. A PET scan can also reveal abnormalities in brain metabolism. These abnormalities can be the result of a tumor or another disease.

The PET scan usually lasts about an hour. The radiotracer is injected into a vein in the arm or hand. This radioactive material takes time to reach the cells. Before the PET scan, the patient should avoid eating or drinking starchy vegetables. Before the scan, the patient should go to the bathroom. After the injection, they lie flat in a cylindrical scanner. The scan takes approximately an hour.

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