George Segall, MD, serves as chief of the Nuclear Medicine Service at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System, Palo Alto, Calif., and professor of radiology at Stanford University, Stanford, Calif. He is currently president of the Society of Nuclear Medicine and has published more than 60 peer-reviewed journal articles and authored six book chapters on nuclear and molecular imaging.
A cancer diagnosis is always a scary thing. And even after successful treatment, there’s still fear – fear that cancer will recur. Routine surveillance and checkups can help ensure you are still healthy, and after each clean checkup you can breathe a new sigh of relief. Unfortunately, for some cancer patients, the doctor may suspect a recurrence, and then worrying begins again in earnest. Waiting for answers can make minutes seem like hours and days like weeks.
Physicians are now able to shorten this wait time by utilizing positron emission tomography (PET) scans to image a cancer site based on suspicious symptoms, an abnormal physical exam or other diagnostic tests. The PET scan can provide your physician with a way to see not only the structure of organs and tissue, but also how the cells are actually working. Since PET scans are non-invasive, this critical information can be gathered without having to schedule investigational surgery.
For some, this means that what appeared to be a tumor is shown by the PET scan to be just a benign mass, putting a quick end to the stress and anxiety of a recurrence. For others who may in fact be experiencing a recurrence, a PET scan allows the opportunity to start new treatment earlier for a successful intervention.
For many of the patients I speak with, just knowing is a weight off of their shoulders. They can get back to their everyday lives … or they take a deep breath and prepare to conquer their next battle with cancer. The term “knowledge is power” can apply to many situations, but for cancer patients, knowledge can help them pick up and continue on—whatever the path may be.