PET/CT scanning in oncology

The management of cancer has evolved over the years to include many modalities of treatment such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Proper management requires accurate diagnosis and evaluation of spread of tumor and the PET/CT scanner provides sophisticated imaging to assess the original tumor as well as metastatic disease.

Our service is fully integrated into the Medical Oncology, Surgery, and Radiation Oncology groups at Stanford and all of these hospital units have computerized access to images that we produce to provide up-to-the-minute information.

Benefit of PET in oncology

Clinical research data has proven that PET scanning is superior to conventional imaging in the diagnosis and management of various types of cancers. Moreover, the appropriate use of PET can lead to a significant change in the management a patient's care.

Value of PET: major tumor types that PET can be useful

Depending on your clinical situation, PET scanning has been proven to be critical in the following tumor types:

  • Lung cancer
  • Lymphoma
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Melanoma
  • Head and neck cancer
  • Breast cancer

How PET works

Cancer cells require a great deal of sugar, or glucose, to have enough energy to grow. PET scanning utilizes a radioactive molecule that is similar to glucose, called fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG). FDG accumulates within malignant cells because of their high rate of glucose metabolism. Once injected with this agent, the patient is imaged on the whole body PET scanner to reveal cancer growths which may have been overlooked or difficult to characterize by conventional CT, X-Ray, or MRI.

Combined PET/CT imaging: the added advantage

The PET/CT scanner at Stanford combines two state of the art imaging modalities. By monitoring glucose metabolism, PET provides very sensitive information regardless of whether a growth within the body is cancerous or not. CT meanwhile provides detailed information about the location, size, and shape of various lesions but cannot differentiate cancerous lesions from normal structures with the same accuracy as PET. The combined PET/CT scanner merges PET and CT images together. Every PET/CT scan at Stanford is reviewed and correlated by both a board certified Nuclear Medicine Physician and a board certified Radiologist at a daily joint review session. Separate full reports are generated from each division for each patient.