January 27, 2003

PET/CT scan benefits patients


By Cindy Sanders

Patients at Emory Hospital (EUH) now have access to the latest development in medical imaging technology with the installation of a PET/CT scanner. The state-of-the-art technology helps doctors see and treat cancer and deliver better cancer care from diagnosis to follow-up.

The $2 million scanner combines positron emission tomography (PET) and high-speed, multislice computerized tomography (CT) imaging. Although PET/CT is recognized as one of the most effective technologies for diagnosing certain cancers and staging malignant diseases, until now it was not available in Georgia. Indeed, access to this technology is very limited in the United States.

David Schuster, medical director of the hospital’s PET Center, said Atlanta’s first PET/CT scanner allows physicians to determine precisely areas of abnormality in the body so they can be treated as quickly and effectively as possible.

“A PET scan detects changes in cellular function like how cells are utilizing nutrients like sugar and oxygen; areas with a high degree of metabolic activity have a greater chance of being cancerous,” Schuster said. “A CT scan allows doctors to see the internal structures within the human body.

“Together, a PET/CT scan allows doctors to view metabolic activity and pinpoint where abnormal lesions are located so that they can target the disease,” he continued. “In other words, it allows us to superimpose the function of the body with the anatomy of the body.”

Combining the strengths of PET and CT will allow physicians to diagnose and localize smaller tumors early and make more informed treatment decisions for their patients. The technology allows physicians to separate normal from abnormal structures in the body, thus cutting down on false positives.

“We are already seeing this [at EUH],” Schuster said.

This new technology will reduce invasive procedures in patients, such as biopsies and unnecessary surgeries. It also will reduce examination and imaging time.

EUH clinical coordinator Susan Burrows knows firsthand the importance these machines have in detecting cancer. After being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1998, Burrows underwent regular treatments of chemotherapy and was enjoying a remission; regular checkups during the next two years, including CT scans, revealed nothing abnormal, but blood tests raised a red flag with Burrows’ physicians. A subsequent PET scan revealed that her cancer had returned.

After undergoing chemotherapy for more than a year, Burrows was scanned for the first time with EUH’s new PET/CT on Sept. 30, 2002. The new scan showed progressive disease, she said, and it let her physicians know how well the chemotherapy was working and allowed them the insight needed for her continued treatment plans.

“The regular PET scans are good, but the new PET/CT is better,” Burrows said. “It is more anatomically detailed and accurate for staging and restaging ovarian cancer. For me, this accuracy is very important, since none of the other tests or scans detected the cancer was back.”

It also is much quicker. “The PET/CT is cutting our examination times in half,” said Michael White, PET imaging technologist. “Normally, a PET scan can take up to 50 minutes, but with this new technology scan times are now 20–25 minutes. Our patients have been extremely pleased that they don’t have to spend an hour in the scanner.”

“That is so true,” Burrows said. “Even though this is a noninvasive procedure, it’s still a scary thing to go through. There’s no one going through this scan who is not facing a possible life-changing diagnosis. The decreased scan time makes the whole experience easier.”






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