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PET Scan Proves Effective for Cancer Detection, Management


is a powerful tool for cancer detection and management. Developed more than 30 years ago, PET is a type of nuclear imaging that uses radioactive glucose to pinpoint a diseased tumor. While X-rays and CT scans provide information about the way organs or tissues look, a PET scan shows what the cells in those organs or tissues are doing, which helps doctors manage the disease.

Barry Siegel is professor of radiology at Washington University in St. Louis and co-chair of the PET registry. Since 2006, the registry has analyzed PET scans for 40,000 patients in the federal health care program for elderly and disabled Americans. Researchers wanted to know whether PET scans were valid tools for detection and management of types of cancers beyond the eight paid for by the government insurance program.

"PET led to the change in the management of patients, from either treatment to non-treatment or non-treatment to treatment using the very simplest approach in about one-third or so of patients," says Siegel.

Siegel says the study looked at 18 different types of cancer and found that the same percentage of all of them would benefit from being analyzed with a PET scan.

"The change in management pretty much clustered around that one-third of cases, no matter whether the type of cancer was bladder cancer or stomach cancer or one of the other cancers that was not previously covered," he says.

Siegel says the data compares favorably to the growing number of studies on the utility of PET scans.

"When PET said that a patient's prognosis was likely to be worse, it was worse. When PET said that a patient had limited disease and therefore was very likely to be curable by radical treatment, that those patients had a much, much better survival."

Siegel hopes the outcome is a change in public policy, so that more cancer patients covered by the federal government's health care program can get PET scans, which are widely available at hospitals across the United States. Their findings are published in the December issue of The Journal of Nuclear Medicine.

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