Why does the NT need a PET scanner and how do they work?

pet-scanner

Positron emission tomography (PET) scans are used to diagnose and detect a host of diseases and are particularly useful for patients with cancer, heart disease, epilepsy and other neurological diseases.

They are often used in conjunction with computed tomography (CT) scanners.

The Northern Territory currently has no PET scanner, although during this year’s federal election campaign both the Coalition and Labor promised to provide one for Darwin.

President of the Australian Medical Association (AMA) in the Northern Territory, Dr Robert Parker, said a PET scan would be welcomed by doctors in Darwin.

“We are always interested in better health outcomes in the NT,” he said.

Dr Parker said at the moment patients requiring PET scans needed to travel interstate, which could be hard for very sick people to do, especially if it meant leaving their family.

A 10-year study by Cancer Council NT said on average 558 people in the NT were diagnosed with cancer each year.

How do they work?

The scanner works after a patient is given a radioactive medicine that is tagged to a natural chemical, such as glucose, water or ammonia.

Depending on what part of the body is being scanned, the so-called radiotracer can be injected, inhaled or swallowed.

Once inside the body, the radiotracer goes to parts of the body that use the natural chemical it is tagged with.

So because cancers use glucose differently to normal tissue, a radiotracer tagged with glucose is effective at showing where cancers are located.

The radioactive substance most commonly used in PET scanning is a sugar called fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG).

The PET scan detects energy emitted by positrons, which are positively-charged particles that are made when the radiotracer breaks down inside a patient’s body.

The scanner goes around someone’s body, enabling a three-dimensional image to be created.

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