I had my second PET scan on Friday since starting iBrance and Faslodex. I wasn’t nervous about the scan; that part is relatively easy; it’s the uncertainty and having to wait to see my oncologist for the results that is the most difficult part. I also deal with pain during my scan because ever since my first surgery in April 2019, I have had pain when raising my arms over my head, which can become very uncomfortable when I have to stay still in that position for more than a few minutes.
Unfortunately, PET Scans are not as quick and easy as getting X-rays. From checking in to registering, going through the scan process to leaving, I was there for 3 hours. I go alone to the appointments because my husband can’t go back with me while I am being scanned, so it doesn’t make sense for him to be there. He goes with me to my oncologist appointment after my scan, so he will be with me when I get my results. I never know what to expect, so it is comforting to have him with me, no matter what the results turn out to be.
Until I faced breast cancer in 2019, I had never had surgery, a biopsy, a CT Scan, a Bone Scan – Nuclear Medicine, or a PET Scan. I have learned so much in the last three years and eight months about things I wish I had never had to experience. I share as much information as I can with my readers because I want you to not only understand what I have been through and what I am going through now as a stage 4 metastatic breast cancer patient but also to help those who are going through the same journey. It is terrifying when you don’t know what to expect, and you are overwhelmed with information. I try to make it a little easier for those interested in getting the information needed to help themselves through whatever they may be facing or helping a friend or loved one through a difficult time.
What is a PET Scan?
A positron emission tomography (PET) scan is an imaging test that can help reveal the metabolic or biochemical function of your tissues and organs. The PET scan uses a radioactive drug (tracer) to show both normal and abnormal metabolic activity. A PET scan can often detect the abnormal metabolism of the tracer in diseases before the disease shows up on other imaging tests, such as computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
The tracer is most often injected into a vein within your hand or arm. The tracer will then collect into areas of your body that have higher levels of metabolic or biochemical activity, which often pinpoints the location of the disease.
Why it’s done
A PET scan is an effective way to help identify a variety of conditions, including cancer, heart disease and brain disorders. Your doctor can use this information to help diagnose, monitor or treat your condition.
Cancer cells show up as bright spots on PET scans because they have a higher metabolic rate than do normal cells. PET scans may be useful in:
- Detecting cancer
- Revealing whether your cancer has spread
- Checking whether a cancer treatment is working
- Finding a cancer recurrence
PET scans must be interpreted carefully because noncancerous conditions can look like cancer, and some cancers do not appear on PET scans. Many types of solid tumors can be detected by PET-CT and PET-MRI scans, including:
- Head and neck
- Lymphatic system
PET scans can reveal areas of decreased blood flow in the heart. This information can help you and your doctor decide, for example, whether you might benefit from a procedure to open clogged heart arteries (angioplasty) or coronary artery bypass surgery.
PET scans can be used to evaluate certain brain disorders, such as tumors, Alzheimer’s disease and seizures.
For your PET scan, a radioactive drug (tracer) will be injected into a vein. Because the amount of radiation you’re exposed to in the tracer is small, the risk of negative effects from the radiation is low. But the tracer might:
- Expose your unborn baby to radiation if you are pregnant
- Expose your child to radiation if you are breastfeeding
- Cause an allergic reaction, although this is rare
Talk with your doctor about the benefits and risks of a PET scan.
How you prepare
Tell your doctor:
- If you’ve ever had a bad allergic reaction
- If you’ve been sick recently or you have another medical condition, such as diabetes
- If you’re taking any medications, vitamins or herbal supplements
- If you’re pregnant or you think you might be pregnant
- If you’re breastfeeding
- If you’re afraid of enclosed spaces (claustrophobic)
Your doctor will give you detailed instructions on how to prepare for your scan. A general rule is to avoid strenuous exercise for a couple of days before the scan and to only drink water after midnight before the day of the scan.
What you can expect
The PET-CT or PET-MRI scanner is a large machine that looks a little like a giant doughnut standing upright, similar to CT or MRI scanners.
From start to finish, the procedure takes about two hours to complete and typically does not require an overnight hospital stay. When you arrive for your scan, you may be asked to:
- Change into a hospital gown
- Empty your bladder
A member of your health care team injects the radioactive drug (tracer) into a vein in your arm or hand. You may briefly feel a cold sensation moving up your arm. You rest and remain silent in a reclining chair for 30 to 60 minutes while the tracer is absorbed by your body.
During the procedure
When you are ready, you lie on a narrow, padded table that slides into the part of the scanner that looks like a doughnut hole. During the scan you must be very still so that the images aren’t blurred. It takes about 30 minutes to complete a PET-CT scan and 45 minutes for a PET-MRI scan. The machine makes buzzing and clicking sounds.
The test is painless. If you’re afraid of enclosed spaces, you may feel some anxiety while in the scanner. Be sure to tell the nurse or technologist about any anxiety causing you discomfort. He or she may give you a drug to help you relax.
After the procedure
After the test you can carry on with your day as usual, unless your doctor tells you otherwise. You’ll need to drink plenty of fluids to help flush the tracer from your body.
A doctor specially trained to interpret scan images (radiologist) will report the findings to your doctor.
The radiologist may compare your PET images with images from other tests you’ve undergone recently, such as MRI or CT. Or the PET images may be combined to provide more detail about your condition.
I hope this explanation of PET scans helps you to understand what is involved and what cancer patients go through as a regular part of their care. Depending on the type of cancer and the treatment plan, most cancer patients are scanned every three to six months. I am scanned every four months because my cancer, in both 2019 and currently, has proven to be aggressive, so my oncologist feels that every three months is too often, but every six months is too long between scans, making both him and me nervous.
I will post again once I have my results, but in the meantime, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me. Thank you for being here! 💕