Date: 2/5/2003

Community Healthcare System offers PET scans

Patients and doctors of Community Healthcare System now have access to a sophisticated yet painless scan that can help diagnose and battle some of life’s most life-threatening illnesses. PET, or positron emission tomography, is a diagnostic procedure used in nuclear medicine to visualize the body’s tissues. While an MRI or a CT scan shows the tissue’s structure, a PET scan shows how that tissue is actually working.

With equipment provided by Medical Outsourcing Services, the mobile PET unit is stationed at Community Hospital in Munster for appointments at least once a week. Physicians from any hospital are invited to refer to the service.

“Investments in technologies such as PET are providing the patients and physicians of Community Healthcare System with the advanced knowledge they need to better manage complex diseases such as cancer and heart disease,” says John Gorski, Senior Vice President of Hospital Operations for Community Healthcare System.

PET is an extremely useful test for helping doctors detect cancer and manage it properly. Because it shows how the body’s cells are working, it provides physicians with information about where cancer is located, if it has spread, and how large the tumors are. It also can help doctors determine how effective chemotherapy and radiation have been in reducing tumors or even eliminating them. PET also has become more useful in detecting heart disease and diagnosing neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.

“Physicians on staff at Community Hospital, St. Catherine Hospital and St. Mary Medical Center now have the option of having their patients tested by the most advanced PET scanning process available, rather than sending them for scans at other area hospitals that use lower quality equipment,” Gorski says.


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PET scanning was developed several decades ago, around the same time as CT and MRI. With the advancement of technology, PET testing has evolved to become much more sophisticated, and its usefulness is just now becoming known as more scientists and doctors participate in the revolution of nuclear medicine.

PET belongs to the nuclear medicine category of tests, a medical specialty that uses very small amounts of radioactive materials, or radiopharmaceuticals, to diagnose and treat disease.

PET imaging combines a common body substance called glucose, or sugar, with a special radioactive isotope that is injected into the bloodstream through an IV. As the substance circulates throughout the body, it is picked up and incorporated into the body’s cells. The PET scanner then picks up the signals emitted from the radioactive glucose in the cells, and a computer generates images of the cells and how they are functioning.

“Cancer cells have a high metabolic rate, which means they are going to absorb and process the injected glucose faster than typical body tissues,” says David Megremis, M.D., a radiologist on staff at Community Hospital. “The PET scanner takes a picture of this process, and the computer software translates that image into something we can read.

“PET also can detect decreased metabolic activity in areas that should have a higher rate, which makes the test useful in detecting certain myocardial [heart] or neurological functions,” Megremis says.

While the idea of radioactive material inside your body may sound scary, the test is actually very safe, and uses no more radiation than a typical X-ray or CT scan alone. Other than the needle stick to start the IV, PET is non-invasive and involves simply lying flat on a table. The quantity of radiation that the glucose is labeled with is minimal and has a short life span inside your body. Family members are not at risk for exposure because more than 90 percent of the radioactivity will have left your body before you leave the screening area.

“Our communities can rest assured that no matter what diseases they face, Community Healthcare System is going to find a way to help them prevent, beat or manage their illnesses better,” Gorski says. “The PET scan is just one way we’re investing in the health of our residents and making sure they have access to the safest, the latest and the best technology and treatments available.”

(suggested sidebar)

Putting PET to Good Use
PET - or positron emission tomography - is a nuclear medicine test that allows doctors to see how the body is functioning at the biochemical level. The painless test has many useful applications in medicine. Ask your doctor if a PET would benefit you.

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Early Detection
Because a PET scan shows the tissue’s biochemical activity, it is useful in determining whether a mass is cancerous or benign. A PET that shows no cancer may help prevent an unnecessary biopsy surgery. A whole-body PET scan may also help detect the spread of disease and provide better information to make decisions regarding the need for surgery, radiation or other treatments.

Staging of Cancer
PET has proven to be highly effective for determining the extent of cancer in the body, especially with lymphoma, malignant melanoma, breast, lung, colon and cervical cancers.

Checking for Recurrent Disease
Again, because PET shows metabolic activity, it is highly accurate in determining the difference between a residual scar tissue mass, and recurrent tumors.

Assessing Treatment Effectiveness
By comparing a tumor’s metabolic activity before and after cancer treatments, doctors can determine how effective chemotherapy or other treatments have been in altering the tumor size or aggressiveness. PET is a highly effective tool for providing this information.

Source of sidebar: The Society of Nuclear Medicine