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SNM Offers PET Scan Tips for Patients During National Nuclear Medicine Week

SNM Offers PET Scan Tips for Patients During National Nuclear Medicine Week
The first week in October is Nuclear Medicine Week. This year, this awareness week comes just two weeks after the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released the findings of its yearlong study into the future of nuclear medicine.
The study recommended that federal funding for basic nuclear medicine/molecular imaging research be enhanced. The report recognized the importance of nuclear medicine in the care of patients with many illnesses, including cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. It helps diagnose disease, plan the best treatment and monitor the effectiveness of therapies. (“Advancing Nuclear Medicine Through Innovation,” NAS Summary)
SNM (the Society of Nuclear Medicine) applauds NAS for bringing light to the crisis in patient care that will develop if the United States lets this line of medical research fall dormant.
“Research funded by DOE over the last 50 years has led to many life-saving techniques that are now used daily, improving patients’ outcomes. Positron emission tomography (PET) scans are one of the most important of these techniques. PET scans are used in the diagnosis and staging of cancer,” said SNM President Alexander J. McEwan. “With proper funding, basic nuclear medicine research will continue to improve patient care through new therapeutic isotopes to cure disease, earlier diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and cancer, detection of the effectiveness of cancer therapies, development of the next generation of imaging technologies and more,” added McEwan, who speaks for more than 16,000 members of the world’s largest society for molecular imaging and nuclear medicine professionals.
Currently, more than 20 million men, women and children need noninvasive nuclear medicine/molecular imaging procedures each year. These safe, cost-effective procedures include PET scans to diagnose and monitor treatment of cancer, cardiac stress tests to analyze heart function, bone scans for orthopedic injuries and lung scans for blood clots.
In light of National Nuclear Medicine Week, SNM offers patients the following tips to better understand what to expect if their doctor recommends a PET scan procedure.

What is a PET scan? A PET scan is a biological imaging exam that provides information about how a patient’s cells are “behaving” or functioning.

Why is the doctor recommending a PET scan? A single PET exam can provide information that once would have required many medical studies, and it can do so without the surgery that those studies might have required. PET scans are most often used to detect cancer and monitor response to treatment. PET scans are also used to evaluate heart disease, neurological conditions and other physiological problems.

What should a patient expect? Most PET scans are done as outpatient exams. Patients receive a small dose of a radioactive pharmaceutical and remain on a bed while the radiotracers are detected or “traced” by a special type of camera that works with computers to provide precise pictures of the area of body being imaged. The entire process can take as little as one hour. Because PET is noninvasive and does not involve the risks of surgery, PET scans can be performed repeatedly, if necessary, with minimal risk. The very small amount of tracer administered remains in the body for only a short period of time; there are no known long-term adverse effects from such low doses. After the scan, a nuclear medicine physician reviews the images, prepares a written report and discusses the results with the patient’s doctor.

What are the benefits? PET scans provide valuable information for cancer diagnosis (breast, cervical, colorectal, esophageal, head and neck, lung, lymphoma, melanoma, pancreatic, thyroid and others); evaluation of cancer therapy; and diagnosis of heart disease (and the potential effectiveness of treatment), Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, epilepsy and other neurological diseases. This type of imaging can show changes much earlier than other imaging tests like CT or MRI.

Does insurance cover PET scans? Many PET scans are covered by insurance; pre-authorization is usually needed or advised. However, recent changes in legislation have limited access to PET scans for Medicare patients by decreasing reimbursements at outpatient facilities.

What if my doctor wants me to have a PET/CT exam? Nuclear medicine researchers are investigating new radiotracers and new applications of PET that may reveal disease processes that have never before been imaged. PET is now being combined with other imaging techniques—such as computed tomography (CT)—to create “fusion” images that provide functional information with anatomical context. PET—alone and in combination with other techniques—will continue to provide a unique closer look into the body and yield valuable information in the development of treatments and preventive health measures.

Where can I learn more about PET, PET/CT and molecular imaging/nuclear medicine? SNM encourages patients to be their own advocates and talk to their doctors about whether a PET scan is right for them. To learn more about molecular imaging and nuclear medicine, visit SNM’s Web site ( for information and resources on specific imaging procedures.
Posted 10.02.07

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