Improved Scanning for Life-Threatening Diseases

The combined PET/CT scanner is so expensive that most hospitals can only afford to have one on site once a week. That can make it difficult to schedule tests for all the patients who need one.

Since many are waiting for potentially life-changing news, it helps to speed up the process.

Fifty-six-year-old Jimmy Smith knew he was pretty sick, but doctors couldn't prove it. "I've had numerous tests. I've had all kind of PET scans, lab work, lab work, lab work."

It wasn't until his doctor ordered a PET/CT scan, now a permanent fixture at St. Mary's Center for Advanced Medicine, that Jimmy finally got an answer. "Small cell carcinoma. So to me, it's a bittersweet thing. I mean, I'm glad I know what's wrong, but it wasn't a very good diagnosis."

The PET scan shows glowing images of cancer cells that have absorbed injected nuclear material. The CT scan shows the anatomy. The machine combines both tests.

Pam Duncan, chief technologist, explains, "You take the PET, and you take the CT, and the patient is in the exact same spot. So they never move, and you have a true fusion image. And that's putting the PET on top of the CT, and this is what comes out to be a colored image."

The colored image shows the exact location of cancer, and if it's spread which helps determine if it's operable.

For Jimmy Smith, it's not. He'll need several rounds of chemotherapy, but still feels lucky that his lung cancer was caught when it was. "You have to do what you have to do. All I'm saying is that I'm thankful for all of this technology and all of these doctors and all of these technicians. Because if it wasn't for all of the above, I wouldn't be sitting here, on this table, today."

Besides cancer, the PET/CT scanners have also shown great success in imaging patients with suspected coronary artery disease, the number one killer in the U.S. And, hopefully, we'll start seeing more hospitals purchasing the equipment.