Types of PET Scans

One of the greatest medical innovations over the last century has been the progression of nuclear medicine as a diagnostic imaging tool. Nuclear medicine is a subset of medicine that utilizes radioactive substances as way to produce images of the body and to treat diseases. Nuclear medicine produces images of the body that are informative guides that are helpful tools for a physician when they produce their diagnosis and their recommendations for further medical action. In the past, the information provided by nuclear medical tactics would only be possible to gather through exploratory surgery. With nuclear medicine, a doctor is able to gather information about a patient’s physiology (function) of the body as well as the patient’s anatomy. Originally used solely for the treatment of thyroid disorders, nuclear medicine is now used to:

  • Analyze kidney function
  • Image blood flow and heart function
  • Scan respiratory and blood-flow problems in the lungs
  • Identify gallbladder blockage
  • Evaluate bones for arthritis, fracture, infection or tumor
  • Determine the presence or spread of cancer
  • Identify bowel bleeding
  • Locate infection presence
  • Measure thyroid function to detect irregularities such as an overactive or underactive thyroid.

One of the most important tools derived from nuclear medicine is Positron Emission Tomography or PET. PET was originally used as a research tool but in the early 1990s began to be used in clinical studies. As a diagnostic imaging tool, PET scans differentiate themselves from such anatomical imaging tools as x-rays, computed tomography (CT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) as it is a metabolic imaging tools. What this means is that PET imaging is able to produce images that detail the chemical function of a particular organ or tissue in a patient. By producing metabolic images of organs and tissues rather than anatomical images that detail body structure, PET is able to:

  • Distinguish between benign (alive tissue) and malignant (dead tissue) disorders, which is useful in detecting cancerous tumors.
  • Determine the spread of diseases such as cancer, which aids a physician in making informed recommendations for further medical action as well as analyze the effectiveness of medical treatments.
  • Evaluate such neurological disorders as epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, and other dementias.
  • Analyze the functioning of the heart muscle as a way to detect such cardiac illnesses as coronary artery disease and cardiomyopathy.

An effective medical procedure that is continuously being refined through innovations, Positron Emission Tomography, in particular, and Nuclear Medicine, in general, has become increasingly entrenched in the arsenal of clinical physician’s toolbox. To understand how Nuclear Medicine and PET imaging is used in the treatment of certain diseases, continue to read through this website.



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