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PET/CT (positron emission tomography)

What is PET/CT (Positron Emission Tomography)?

Positron Emission Tomography (PET) is a diagnostic imaging modality used to determine the presence or severity of cancers, neurological conditions, infections and cardiovascular disease. It is considered particularly effective in identifying whether or not cancer is present.

PET images can detect metabolic changes occurring at the cellular level in an organ or tissue. A radio-pharmaceutical is injected into the patient and images are acquired by the scanner.

Because PET measures metabolism, it can be superior to other types of scans, particularly in determining the difference between tumors and benign lesions.

Our scanner combines both PET and CT images which provides the important metabolic information from PET superimposed on the low dose, non-contrast CT.

Prior to the exam:

If any of the information below applies to your child after they have been scheduled, please call the PET/CT department at: 205-638-3133:

  • has current glucose levels of less than 60 mg/dl or higher than 150 mg/dl
  • has recently received chemotherapy
  • had surgery, if the surgical site is the primary site of investigation
  • has received radiation therapy, if the radiated site is the primary site of investigation

Dress your child in comfortable clothing with no metal objects such as zippers or snaps. Remove any jewelry as well.

The scanning room is kept very cool but patients are required to be kept warm between the injection and the scan for better image quality.

Diabetic Patients:

It is the responsibility of the referring physician to optimize your child's medications and diet to achieve the desired glucose level before the exam. Patients are instructed to have a high protein, low carb diet for dinner the evening before the exam. They should have nothing to eat or drink (NPO) for 4 hours prior to the exam time.

General Preparations:

No strenuous or excessive exercise 24 hours prior to scheduled appointment.

Your child must have nothing to eat or drink for 4 hours prior to their scheduled appointment.

Should you need to cancel or reschedule your child's appointment, please notify the PET/CT Department at: 205-638-3133, at least 24 hours prior to appointment. This will enable the department ample time to cancel the delivery of the radiopharmaceutical, which is very costly.

When you arrive:

You must check in to Imaging Registration, on the first floor of the Benjamin Russell building, 1 hour prior to your scheduled appointment.

Oncology clinic patients will register in Clinic 8, located in the McWane Building, 1 hour prior to the appointment time.

Once the registration process is completed, a technologist will greet you and escort you to the PET/ CT examination room.

Upon arrival to the PET/CT Department, you will fill out some forms, an IV will be started and the technologist will give you and your child a thorough explanation of the test.

Blood sugar will be checked. Levels less than 60 mg/dl or above 150 mg/dl may require delay or cancellation of the exam.

Parents/Guardians will be allowed to accompany child into the exam room, however, other arrangements should be made for siblings.

Women who are pregnant or may be pregnant will be asked to leave the exam room during the procedure. Please make sure that there is someone else available to accompany the child during the exam, if needed.

During the exam:

The radiopharmaceutical will be injected. Your child is required to relax, keeping movements to a minimum, in a quiet, warm environment to aid in proper absorption of the radiopharmaceutical. There is a waiting period after the injection is given that may last up to 90 minutes, to allow the radiopharmaceutical to be absorbed and distributed throughout the body.

  • For evaluation of the head and neck area, the patient should avoid talking or chewing immediately before and after the injection
  • For evaluation of brain tumors, the patient will be placed in a quiet and darkened room before and after the injection

After the waiting period is over, your child will be asked to empty their bladder before they are taken to the scanning room to begin the PET/CT exam. The exam may take up to 1 hour, during which your child will need to lie still.

After the exam:

Please keep your child well hydrated and ensure they urinate frequently for a few hours after the exam.

Test Results:

The images from your child's exam are interpreted by a pediatric radiologist and a report is sent to your physician's office.

If your physician has any questions regarding the report, he/she may call 205-638-9730

Question or concern about your child's exam?