This test makes images that show areas of active disease. It uses a substance that is radioactive and is attracted to areas of disease. When the scan takes images, the areas of disease will be highlighted.
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A PET scan may be done for a number of reasons, including:
Problems are rare. The doctor will talk about possible problems such as:
Be sure to discuss these risks with your doctor before the test. Let your doctor know about any allergies or unrelated illnesses you may have.
The care team may discuss:
Wear comfortable clothes to the test but you may be asked to wear a hospital gown. Tell the care team if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
You will be given a radioactive substance. It may be given as an injection or you will take it by mouth or inhale it into the lungs. This will deliver to substance to area that is being studied. It takes 30 to 90 minutes for the substance to be absorbed by the tissue. You will rest while this takes place.
The machine looks like a large donut. A table will slide in and out of the opening. You will lie on a table. A technician will move the table into position. This machine can make clicking sounds during the test. The images are viewed on a computer monitor. The scan lasts about 30 to 45 minutes. You may be asked to move or do other tasks during the test. For example, during a heart PET scan, you may be asked to walk on a treadmill.
Drink plenty of fluids to help the radioactive substance pass from your body.
At least 2 hours
Except for the pinprick from the injection, a PET scan is a painless procedure. People who are uncomfortable in closed or tight spaces may have some anxiety.
The images will show activity levels as different colors or brightness. A radiologist will review the images and send the results to your doctor. It may take a few days for your doctor to receive the report.
Call your doctor if you have any unusual symptoms such as a rash, itching, or difficulty breathing. These symptoms may mean that you are having an allergic reaction to the radioactive substance.
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Radiology Info—Radiological Society of North America
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
PET scan. NHS Choices website. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/PET-scan/Pages/Introduction.aspx. Accessed October 3, 2020.
Positron emission tomography—computed tomography (PET/CT). Radiology Info—Radiological Society of North America website. Available at: https://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=pet. Accessed October 3, 2020.
Positron emission tomography (PET scan). Cleveland Clinic website. Available at: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/pet-scan. Accessed October 3, 2020.
Positron emission tomography (PET scan). Johns Hopkins Medicine website. Available at: http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/test_procedures/neurological/positron_emission_tomography_pet_scan_92,P07654. Accessed October 3, 2020.
Last reviewed October 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Daus Mahnke, MD