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PET Scan (Positron Emission Tomography) - A Test to Evaluate Lung Cancer


Updated July 14, 2014


A PET scan is a radiological test used to evaluate and stage lung cancer, and is often used along with a CT scan.

Whereas CT scans and MRI look at the body's anatomy (bones, organs and other tissues,) PET scans look at how the body functions (how these organs and tissues are working.)

With a PET scan, a small amount of radioactive sugar is injected into the bloodstream. Growing cells use sugar. Rapidly growing cells such as cancer cells take up the sugar and can be seen on 3-dimensional imaging.

PET scans can sometimes find lung cancer that has spread, but is not seen with other studies. Since lung cancer surgery to remove primary lung cancer is not usually recommended for patients with metastatic cancer, the results of a PET scan might prevent unnecessary surgery.


Giaccone, G. Fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography, a standard diagnostic tool in lung cancer. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 2007. 99:1741-43.

Tinteren, H. et al. Effectiveness of positron emission tomography in the preoperative assessment of patients with suspected non-small-cell lung cancer: the PLUS multicentre randomized trial. The Lancet. 2002. 359(9315):1388-92.

Ung, Y. et al. Fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography in the diagnosis and staging of lung cancer: a systematic review. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 2007. 99:1753-67.

Even though Jill's CT scan failed to identify lung cancer in tissues other than her lung, her PET scan showed that her lung cancer had spread, and that surgery would not be the best treatment for her.
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