Preparing for your PET-CT exam

What is PET-CT imaging?
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Positron emission tomography (PET) and computed tomography (CT) are two types of imaging used together to detect a cancer and measure its severity. PET-CT may also be used to determine how well your cancer therapy is working.

A PET scan looks at the functioning of body tissues. A tiny amount of radioactive sugar (glucose) is injected into the bloodstream. Because cancer cells in the body are growing rapidly, they absorb large amounts of the glucose, which show up as “hot” spots on your scan. A CT scan shows organs and other body structures. It is used to pinpoint the location, size and shape of the abnormal area. Together, PET and CT provide a complete picture of any suspected cancer.

Is it safe?
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The risks associated with a PET-CT scan are minimal. The radioactive glucose degrades quickly so that no detectable radioactivity is present after several hours. The remainder is eliminated from the body through urine. If you are given contrast dye, it is possible to have an allergic reaction to it. Tell your doctor if you have had an allergic reaction to a previous contrast study.

How do I get ready?
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The day before your exam
  • Follow a low carbohydrate diet plan per the “PET-CT Diet Plan”.
  • Drink extra fluids, unless your doctor tells you otherwise.
  • Do not do any strenuous activity such as jogging, heavy lifting or exercising.

If you have any of the below conditions, call your doctor and bring any medications with you to the testing center.

  • Fear of enclosed or tight spaces (claustrophobia)
  • Pain
  • An allergy to contrast dye or shellfish
Six hours before your exam
  • Do not eat, drink (except water) or chew gum.
  • You may take your regularly scheduled medications with water.
What happens the day of the exam?
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  • Diabetics: Do not take your insulin the day of your exam. If needed, call your doctor for instructions for controlling your glucose due to this restriction.
  • There is valet parking available at the Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion.
  • Plan on being at the testing center for about three hours.
  • Bring a list of any medications you are currently taking.
  • Due to the type of medication used, pregnant women, and children younger than 18 are not allowed in the uptake rooms with the patient.
  • Wear comfortable, loose fitting clothing with minimal metal and avoid wearing jewelry.
  • If you are on tube feedings, continue feeding until six hours prior to your appointment. You may still have water.
What happens during the exam?
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An intravenous catheter (IV) will be placed. An IV is a small needle with a hollow tube that is put into a vein. A small amount of radioactive glucose will be given through the IV. It will then circulate through your body for about 90 minutes before the exam. During this time you will be in a private room with cable television and a DVD player. Feel free to bring a movie along to watch. If you are having a PET scan of the brain, you will not be allowed to watch TV or movies for one hour before the exam. The scan will take 30 to 60 minutes. We may need to give you another type of contrast dye. We may ask you to drink the dye or we will give it to you through your IV. Satellite radio is available during the exam.

What happens after the exam?
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Please drink extra fluids throughout the day to help rinse the contrast dye and glucose from your system. Your PET-CT scan is read by our radiologist. We will send a report to your ordering doctor within three to five business days. Call your doctor for results.

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Please contact us at least 24 hours prior to your scan if you need to reschedule. The radioactive glucose injection required for your PET-CT is ordered for you only and expires rapidly.

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You will receive two separate bills for PET-CT. One will be from Spectrum Health for the PET-CT study and the other from Advanced Radiology Services for the radiologist’s reading of the study. Insurance companies vary on what they will pay, so it is best to contact yours directly if you have questions about insurance coverage.

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We continually seek feedback from our patients so we can monitor quality and improve the care experience. If you receive a survey in the mail about today’s study, we appreciate you taking the time to fill it out and send it back. Survey responses are confidential.

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