How Does PET/CT Work?

During a PET/CT scan, a technician injects a radiopharmaceutical tracer into the bloodstream. The tracer is tagged with a particle that mimics a natural substance, such as sugar (glucose). The tracer travels through the body sending out signals, and it quickly collects in the organ(s) targeted for examination. A PET/CT scanner is then used to detect these signals and create a picture of the chemical functions of the targeted area. A series of X-rays is also taken to help determine the specific location of the abnormality within the body.

Is PET/CT Safe?

The radiation dose you receive during a PET/CT scan is low – considerably lower than most diagnostic CT exams. Other nuclear medicine procedures have been in use for more than half a century, during which time no long-term adverse effects have been seen. In addition, the benefits of the information obtained during the scan offset any slight risk from the small amount of radiation administered.

Most people are candidates for PET/CT. However, pregnant women and nursing mothers cannot usually have PET/CT scans unless the potential benefits far outweigh the risk associated with such scans.