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
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
“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.”