What is a PET-CT scan?
A PET-CT scan is a type of advanced imaging scan which can be used to locate many types of cancer and to monitor your progress during different stages of your cancer journey.
It’s a type of precise imaging technique that uses a special radiotracer (a mildly radioactive drug) to detect abnormal cells. The radiotracer is injected into a vein in your arm or hand before the scan, and the PET-CT scanning equipment will detect areas where abnormal cells are located. Different radiotracers are used to detect different types of cancer.
PET-CT scans are more accurate in diagnosing cancer than a PET scan or CT scan alone and are more sensitive than other imaging tests. We use PET-CT scans for many types of cancers and during different parts of your cancer journey as they can also be used to show how your cancer treatment is progressing. PET-CT scans have also played an important role in cancer research and treatment development.
One of our expert consultants will assess each scan carefully before providing your referring clinician with your results. At a follow-up appointment, your clinician will help you understand what your results mean and discuss your treatment options.
At GenesisCare, we aim to provide PET-CT scans within 48 hours of referral and send your results within 24-48 hours of completing the scan to your referring clinician.
How do PET-CT scans work?
The PET (positron emission tomography) scanner detects the radiation given off by a radiotracer that has been injected into a vein in your arm or hand. It shows how your body is working, rather than just what it looks like anatomically. The radiotracer has been modified to seek out and specifically attach to the condition your referring clinician is interested in investigating.
When looking for cancer, PET imaging can identify changes and also find cancer cells that have spread to other parts of the body that can’t be seen on other imaging scans. When the radiotracer attaches to and accumulates around a tumour, it shows up on your PET scan as a radioactive hot spot. Your radiologist or nuclear medicine specialist can easily see this area of increased radiotracer uptake. These are healthcare professionals who are specially trained to understand the images produced by the PET-CT scanner.
The CT (computed tomography) scan uses X-ray radiation to take a series of X-ray images from different angles around your body. Each X-ray image is called a ‘slice’ and produces very detailed images of your anatomy. A computer combines your PET (functional) and CT (structural) images to create extremely detailed 3D images of the inside of your body. Our expert radiologists will then view these images and produce a report.
After your scan, the radiotracer won’t stay in your body for long and is eliminated naturally.
Why do I need a PET-CT scan?
Your consultant may suggest you undergo a PET-CT scan so we can:
- Diagnose your cancer
- Stage your cancer (find out its size and see if it’s spread)
- Determine if you can have surgery to remove your cancer
- Choose your treatment options
- Plan radiotherapy treatment
- See how well your cancer is responding to treatment or if it’s come back
Types of radiotracers and their uses
We use a specific type of radiotracer depending on what we’re looking for during the scan. These radiotracers are mildly radioactive, but your exposure to harmful radiation is minimal. If you have any concerns or want some more information about the risks of a PET-CT scan and the amount of radiation you’ll receive, your consultant will be able to answer these queries.
Both 68Gallium PSMA and 68Gallium Dotatate are made at our onsite radiopharmacy in Windsor which means we can provide fast access to the scans that are essential to your treatment.
68Gallium PSMA PET-CT scans are the gold standard imaging scan for prostate cancer. A radioactive substance called 68Gallium is combined with a unique carrier molecule to create the radiotracer. The carrier molecule is attracted to a substance called prostate-specific membrane antigen (PSMA). PSMA is a type of protein found on the surface of prostate cancer cells in high concentrations. This includes cancer cells that may have spread to other parts of your body, and it can even seek out the smallest tumours you might have. 68Gallium PSMA doesn’t stay in your body for long and is eliminated naturally. Using this radiotracer, we can closely and accurately monitor how well your prostate radiotherapy or hormone therapy cancer treatment is going.
We also use 18F PSMA PET-CT at our Bristol centre through a fortnightly mobile unit. This works the same way that 68Gallium PSMA PET-CT scans do, but uses a radiotracer called 18Flourine.
Theranostics – 177Lutetium PSMA therapy
We use 68Gallium PSMA PET-CT scans as part of our ‘seek and destroy’ Theranostics treatment pathway for men with advanced prostate cancer. For example, your consultant may suggest 177Lutetium PSMA therapy if you have prostate cancer that has spread elsewhere in your body and other treatments haven’t worked or you’re unable to tolerate them.
18F FDG PET-CT scans are available at our Windsor, Oxford and Bristol centres and are used to detect and access the metabolic activity of certain tumours including lung cancer, colorectal cancer, lymphoma, melanoma, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, brain cancer and multiple myeloma. FDG (fluorodeoxyglucose) is similar to naturally occurring glucose which all the cells of the body use for energy. As cancerous cells use more glucose than normal cells, this enables the 18F FDG PET-CT scan to demonstrate areas of increased uptake, making it an ideal diagnostic imaging tool and to help monitor effects of treatment.
68Gallium Dotatate PET-CT scans are used to assess primary and metastatic neuroendocrine tumours (NETs) particularly for symptomatic patients with negative anatomical findings. It plays a key role in identifying patients who may benefit from the associated Theranostics pathway.
68Gallium PSMA PET-CT scans, 18F FDG PET-CT scans and 68Gallium Dotatate PET-CT scans are available at our centres in Windsor and Oxford. 18F FDG PET-CT scans and 18F PSMA PET-CT scans are available at Bristol through a mobile unit every other week.
How much does a PET-CT scan cost?
The cost of a PET-CT scan starts from £1,400. However, this price can change depending on the area of your body that needs to be scanned. This is because imaging larger areas or multiple parts of your body require several scans to be taken by an experienced radiographer or technologist. One of our expert consultants will then assess each scan carefully before providing your referring clinicians with your results.
Private PET-CT scan costs at GenesisCare
- 68Gallium PSMA PET-CT – from £2,500
- 68Gallium Dotatate PET-CT – from £2,500
- 18F FDG PET-CT half body – from £1,400
- 18F FDG PET-CT full body – from £1,600
- SPECT-CT prices vary on isotopes
We’re recognised by all major private medical insurers and also offer a range of self-payment options. We can help guide you through the referral process.
At GenesisCare, we aim to provide PET-CT scans within 48 hours of receiving a request.
What to expect when having your scan
It’s important to know what to expect when having your PET-CT scan. If you have any other concerns, please speak to your consultant. PET-CT scans are painless and help us in planning the best treatment pathway for you.
PET-CT scans are performed in our outpatient centres. You will be sent information regarding the preparation for your PET-CT prior to your appointment.
If you’re breastfeeding, pregnant, or know there is a chance that you might be pregnant, please inform the centre where you’ll be having your PET-CT scan ahead of your appointment.
You should also inform the centre if you are diabetic prior to your appointment as we may need to give you more specific preparation instructions.
It’s a good idea to wear loose, comfortable clothing that doesn’t have metal zips etc as you may be able to wear these during the scan. If not, or if you prefer, we will also provide a hospital gown for you to change into.
Once you’ve arrived for your appointment, you will be brought through to a private room. We may ask you to change into a patient gown and will provide you with a locker for your personal items. We will also ask you to remove any jewellery or other metal objects which may interfere with the scanner.
Before your PET-CT scan, your radiographer will inject a radioactive tracer into your arm or hand through a small plastic tube (cannula). The tracer will only remain in your body for a few hours and will not produce any side effects.
Once you’re ready to have your scan, your radiographer will take you into the scanning room. The PET-CT scanner is a large scanner with a hole all the way through, a bit like a doughnut, with a couch attached. They’ll ask you to lie down on your back on the couch and help you into the correct position and to get comfortable.
Your radiographer will leave the room, but they’ll be able to see through the viewing window from the control room for the duration of the scan. In addition, you’ll be able to talk to one another through an intercom system, and they may give you some specific instructions during the scan.
The couch will slowly move backwards and forwards through the hole of the scanner. You will be asked to keep still and breathe normally during the scan. You may hear very quiet clicking or whirring sounds. This is normal and is part of the machine taking the images.
We’ll send your results to the consultant who requested the scan, usually within 24-48 hours of completing the scan.
Prior to your scan, you’ll be injected with the radiotracer and you’ll have to wait while this circulates to the area being scanned. This can take up to an hour. Depending on which area you’re having scanned, you may be in the room for 30 to 45 minutes. The scan itself won’t cause you any pain, but you may find that lying in the same position causes you a little discomfort but we’ll try to make you as comfortable as possible before the scan starts. You can also listen to music through the speakers to help you relax. Once your scan has finished, your radiographer will come back into the room and assist you back to your room.
You shouldn’t experience any side effects from your PET-CT scan, and you can usually go home as soon as your cannula has been removed. It is advisable to drink plenty of fluids to help flush the radiotracer more quickly out of your system, and you can eat as normal. The radiotracer quickly becomes less radioactive over time and will pass naturally out of your body within a few hours.
Because of the radioactivity in your system, you will be advised to avoid prolonged contact with young children and pregnant women for a couple of hours after your scan as a precaution. We’ll discuss this in more detail with you on the day.
A PET-CT scan is a low-risk procedure, and the amount of radiation you’ll receive from it is equivalent to a few years of naturally occurring (‘background’) radiation. The decision to perform a PET-CT scan is always made by a qualified member of our team who ensures that the radiation exposure is justified.
Your PET-CT scan will provide us with important information, and it’s considered that the benefit for you is much greater than the risk from radiation.
After your scan has finished, you can usually go home as soon as your cannula has been removed.
Very rarely, people may have an allergic reaction to the radiotracer. You should let your radiographer know if you feel unwell or if you have any food or drug allergies.
It’s also important to note that if you are planning on travelling abroad within 48 hours of having your PET-CT scan, you should take your appointment letter with you as proof of the scan. Some airports have very sensitive radiation monitors which may pick up trace radiation after your test.
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