PET/CT & Cancer Procedures

More than one in three people will develop cancer at some point in their lifetime. Even fewer of us go through life without coming into contact with the disease in some way.

Cancer is a disease where cells grow out of control and invade, erode and destroy normal tissue.

Cancer comes in a variety of forms and occurs when cells in the body begin to grow chaotically. Normal cells grow, divide, and produce more cells to keep the body healthy and functioning as it should. During the early years of a person's life, normal cells divide more rapidly until the person becomes an adult. After that, cells in most parts of the body divide only to replace worn-out or dying cells and to repair injuries.

Sometimes, on occasion the ‘grow and divide process’ mutates and cells keep dividing, producing new cells that are not needed. Because cancer cells continue to grow and divide, they are different from normal cells. Instead of dying, they outlive normal cells and continue to form new abnormal cells. The accumulation of extra cells produced by the uncontrolled division of cells forms a growth or tumor, which can be benign or malignant.

  • Benign tumors: Theses are not cancer. Benign tumours are often removed and, in most cases, they do not come back. Cells in benign tumors do not spread to other parts of the body and benign tumors are rarely life threatening.
  • Malignant tumors are cancerous. Cells in malignant tumors are abnormal and divide without control or order invading and destroying cells and the tissue around them.

Cancer cells develop because of damage that can occur to DNA (the substance in every cell that directs all its activities). Most of the time when DNA becomes damaged the body is able to repair it, however in cancer cells the damaged DNA is not repaired.

Cancer cells often travel to other parts of the body where they begin to grow and replace normal tissue in a process, called metastasis. This metastasis process occurs as the cancer cells get into the bloodstream or lymph vessels of our body.

The driving forces behind the development of cancer are damaged genes often caused by environmental factors like smoking, drinking etc.

There are over 200 different types of cancer that can occur anywhere in the body. Every type of cancer has different causes, different symptoms and as such require different types of procedures to diagnose them and different forms of treatment to removal them.

Cancer is graded according to the part of the body where it is located and the kind of cells that make it up. The most common types of cancer cells and their locations are:

  • Carcinomas

These start off in skin tissue or tissues that lines the body cavities of internal organs such as the lungs, breast, colon, and intestines.

  • Sarcomas

These types of cancers grow in the bones and connective tissues between our organs and the skin. Sarcomas sometimes spread into the blood or lymphatic system.

  • Lymphomas

Lymphomas are cancers of the lymphatic system, typically occurring in the lymph nodes.

  • Leukemias

This specific type of cancers forms in the blood or circulatory system. Leukemias are particularly frequent in the bone marrow: the site of blood cell production.

  • Myelomas

These are tumors of bone marrow cells and frequently form simultaneously in many sites, including the ribs, vertebrae, and pelvic bones

Cancers develop because of a complicated interaction between our genes, our environment and bad luck. Certain things increase our chance of developing cancer and these are commonly called risk factors.

Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer, the same as not having a risk factor doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t get cancer at some point in your life.

Some important factors that can influence our risk of cancer, or give evidence of its early detection, are shown below:

  • Alcohol
  • Diet
  • Exercise
  • Family History
  • Obesity
  • Safe sex
  • Work safety
  • Smoking
  • Sunlight (and UV light)

Approximately 1.5 million new cases of cancer are expected to be diagnosed in the U.S alone throughout 2004. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 1,500 people die of cancer every day. However if cancer is found early, it can often be cured.

PET/CT is an excellent tool for helping diagnose and plan the treatment of cancerous growths in many areas of the body.

Providing a diagnosis tool that can offer surgeons earlier diagnosis of tumours, accurate staging and an extremely accurate location of the tumour, PET/CT scans are used in the diagnosis and treatments of the many types of cancers that occur in any place within the body.

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