What is a PET Scan for Lymph Nodes?

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A PET scan, or positron emission tomography, is often used in the identification of certain cancers. While there are many scans available to physicians, PET scans are often more accurate in identifying cancers as they can detect what kind of activity is taking place within a tumor's cells and determine whether it is benign or malignant. PET scans are particularly useful in assessing lymph nodes and in the treatment of lymphomas, both primary and secondary.

Function

A PET scan is often used in the identification of cancerous tumors. PET scans differ from other scans, such as X-rays, as they do not take photographs of the tumor; instead, a PET scan analyzes cell activity and diagnoses cancers based on the high activity within a cancerous cell. A physician will order a PET scan to analyze the lymph nodes if one or several nodes are under suspicion of being cancerous.

Preparation

A PET scan is usually performed on an outpatient basis. It's a rather simple procedure, from the patient's perspective, and the only requirement is to refrain from eating or drinking for 6 hours prior to the time of the scheduled scan.

Process

The patient receives an injection of radioactive glucose, also known as FDG. This takes 45 minutes to distribute throughout the body; it will be absorbed internally, by either the organ or tissue being studied (in this instance, the lymph node or nodes) and will provide the necessary information for the radiologist to interpret the scan. After the radioactive glucose is given time to distribute, the patient empties his bladder. The ensuing PET scan takes approximately 30 to 60 minutes.

Expert Insight

Since the PET scan is performed as an outpatient basis, the patient is usually free to return home after it is finished. PET scan patients should drink plenty of fluids throughout the rest of the day to help flush the radioactive glucose from the body.

Results

After review by a radiologist, PET scan results are generally forwarded to the patient's primary care physician, or the physician who ordered the scan, within 48 hours. It is best to for the patient to follow up with his doctor to receive a timely report.

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