Cancer has become one of the most prevalent condition across the globe. Most of the patients describe it as a terrifying experience. “Cancer is responsible for more than 8.8 million deaths per year. It causes 1 out of 6 deaths without an exception” says WHO.Their condition becomes even worse when they are subjected to false diagnosis. Hence, it becomes crucial to discuss about the diagnostic tools. PET/ CT scan is one of the most precise and finest invention to detect cancer. However, due to its cost, it is not used in every patient.
Dr. Fritz Eliber, (assistant professor of surgery at UCLA’s Jonsson Cancer Center) says that measuring only the tumor size does not clearly indicate the response of the patient to the treatment. Many tumors that did not show any change in size, but they were completely dead on pathologic analysis. “Just because the tumor doesn’t shrink doesn't mean the treatment didn't work". This is where the PET/CT comes into play. It not only tells the size of the tumor, but also reveals the biochemical nature of the cells in real time by acting as a molecular camera.
How is PET/CT scan done?
The patient is refrained from eating anything for 4-6 hours before the test. Before the scan, the patient is injected glucose solution, that contains a small quantity of radioactive material. Then, the patient is made to lie in a tunnel-shaped scanner. The entire scan takes about 30 minutes.
The concept behind is that the cancerous cells absorb more glucose water than the normal cells, as they grow faster. This basis is used to detect the presence and functioning of cancerous cells.
The PET scan is then able to differentiate the cancer cell from normal cells. The rate of glucose uptake will also tell whether the cancer cells are alive and still dividing after the treatment. This saves the patient from receiving the needless chemotherapy and radiotherapy after the abnormal cells are dead.
These days, in India, we use combine technology that combines the PET and CT scan in one machine. This tells about both about the size and location as well as the metabolic activity of the tumor. PET scans also negate any possibility of infection.
Despite of the enormous advantages, there are some drawbacks of PET scan.
Even though, the amount of radioactive material used is very little; it poses a risk for patients specially who are pregnant. Moreover, repeated PET scans are not indicated for anyone.
PET scan also has a minimal likelihood of false diagnosis. This is because the results only depend on the uptake of glucose solution by the cells. There may be false diagnosis if the patient has a chemical imbalance, is diabetic or just ate something before the procedure.
To wind up, PET/CT scan is undoubtedly the best option for accurate diagnosis. However, the radiologist must know to use the diagnostic unit in a way which minimizes the drawbacks, and benefits are exclusively featured.
It money is NOT a constraint, your doctor may advise you to go for PET/CT scan to ascertain the extent of the disease spread. Talk to your doctor about it.