How are PET scans used in the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer?

PET scans create images based on the metabolic activity of cells in the body. A small amount of radiolabeled glucose is injected into the bloodstream. The glucose is taken up and metabolized by the tissues. The PET scanner reads the signal emitted by the radiolabeled material to produce computer-generated images of your body. Since cancer cells metabolize more glucose than normal cells, they "light up" more brightly on the PET scans and can help your doctor pinpoint your disease.
Deborah Davis
OBGYN (Obstetrics & Gynecology)
Cancer cells  grow at a much faster rate, feeding on sugars like glucose.  PET works by using a small amount of a radioactive drug called a tracer in combination with a compound such as glucose.  Once you are injected with the tracer and glucose, the tracer travels through your body.  It emits signals as it travels and eventually collects in the organs targeted for examination.  If an area in the pancreas is stronger, the signals will be stronger and more glucose will be absorbed there. These areas of high glucose uptake can be clearly seen in the scan images.
Positron emission tomography (PET) scans are used to find and follow pancreatic cancer, and help guide treatment decisions. PET scans are extremely sensitive and accurate, able to identify changes not visible on computed tomography (CT or CAT) scans, a type of computerized x-ray.

For a PET scan, patients are given a very small dose of radioactive material, either in a liquid to drink, or as an injection, which is followed by a gamma camera and computer. Because PET scans measure blood flow, oxygen use and sugar metabolism, physicians are able to accurately determine whether a lesion is cancerous or not, because cancer has characteristic blood flow and metabolism patterns. PET scans also help determine whether or not surgery is recommended after diagnosis. PET scans can also help determine whether a treatment is working, and after treatment, whether a patient has a recurrence. The PET scan can reveal answers to these important questions much sooner than other types of scans.

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