The importance of PET scans in diagnosing and staging lung cancer

A positron emission tomography (PET) scan is a medical imaging technique used to examine the functions of certain organs in the body. A PET scan is a sophisticated and advanced test that employs a radioactive tracer that detects the variation in tissues on a molecular level. In a broader perspective, the test is developed to go beyond anatomy and understand the functions of the cell in the organ’s tissue. A PET scan can pinpoint the differences in the functions of the body that include the flow of blood, absorption of sugar molecules and more. Typically, a PET scan is used in monitoring the health of the lungs.

When using a PET scan for the lungs, the technique is likely to be conducted in combination with a lung CT scan. A physician will ask a patient to get the above scans done in case he/she experiences the signs and symptoms of lung cancer. The two scans provide a three-dimensional image that highlights and allows the physician to distinguish between healthy and cancerous cells.

Performing a PET scan during lung cancer diagnosis
The process of the PET scan begins by injecting the patient with a small amount of solution that includes glucose and a radioactive material. This solution is injected an hour prior to scanning. Upon entering the bloodstream, the substance begins to get absorbed by the lung that is being examined. The patient is slid into a large-funnel shaped scanner while the tissues of the organ begin to give off energy. This energy is given off in the form of gamma rays. The PET scanner effectively detects these rays and can bring the cancerous cells into the picture. The importance of this scanning procedure lies in the fact that it can capture detailed images within a single scan. This eliminates the slightest chance of inaccuracy when detecting lung cancer. The procedure of a PET scan can greatly vary in length and is dependent on the organ under the scanner.

Staging lung cancer with PET scan
The path-breaking lung cancer PET scan test allows the physician to get a better understanding of which stage the cancer is in. Usually, lung cancer is assigned a stage from 1 to 4, depending on the severity and the extent of spread of the cancer cells. Tissues that are fast growing are found to absorb more of the tracer substance. This aids in detecting the spread of the tumor and the rate of growth. The PET scan also allows the medical team to decide the best course of treatment to manage lung cancer.

A PET scan is usually painless, apart from the minute sting that is felt from the injection needle.

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