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PET scan for breast cancer

Breast positron emission tomography; PET - breast; PET - tumor imaging - breast

A breast positron emission tomography (PET) scan is an imaging test that uses a radioactive substance (called a tracer) to look for breast cancer. This tracer can help identify areas of cancer that an MRI or CT scan may miss.

How the Test is Performed

A PET scan requires a small amount of radioactive material (tracer). This tracer is given through a vein (IV), usually on the inside of your elbow. It travels through your blood and collects in organs and tissues. The tracer helps the radiologist see certain areas or diseases more clearly.

You will need to wait nearby as your body absorbs the tracer. This usually takes about 1 hour.

Then, you will lie on a narrow table, which slides into a large tunnel-shaped scanner. The PET scanner detects signals from the tracer. A computer changes the results into 3D pictures. The images are displayed on a monitor for your doctor to read.

You must lie still during test. Too much movement can blur images and cause errors.

The test takes about 90 minutes.

Most PET scans are performed along with a CT scan. This combination scan is called a PET/CT.

How to Prepare for the Test

You may be asked not to eat anything for 4 to 6 hours before the scan. You will be able to drink water.

Tell your health care provider if:

  • You are afraid of close spaces (have claustrophobia). You may be given a medicine to help you feel sleepy and less anxious.
  • You are pregnant or think you might be pregnant.
  • You are breastfeeding.
  • You have any allergies to injected dye (contrast).
  • You take insulin for diabetes. You will need special preparation.

Always tell your provider about the medicines you're taking, including those bought without a prescription. Sometimes, medicines can interfere with the test results.

How the Test will Feel

You may feel a sharp sting when the needle containing the tracer is placed into your vein.

A PET scan causes no pain. The table may be hard or cold, but you can request a blanket or pillow.

An intercom in the room allows you to speak to someone at any time.

There is no recovery time, unless you were given a medicine to relax.

Why the Test is Performed

A PET scan is most often used when other tests, such as MRI scan or CT scan, DO NOT provide enough information.

A breast PET scan is used only after a woman has been diagnosed with breast cancer. It is done to see if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes, liver, lung, or bones.

If you have breast cancer, your doctor may order this scan:

  • Soon after your diagnosis to see if the cancer has spread
  • After treatment if there is concern that the cancer has come back
  • During treatment to see if the cancer is responding to treatment

A PET scan is not used to screen for, or diagnose, breast cancer.

Normal Results

A normal result means there are no areas outside the breast in which the radiotracer has abnormally collected. This result most likely means the breast cancer has not spread to other parts of the body.

Very small areas of breast cancer may not show up on a PET scan.

What Abnormal Results Mean

Abnormal results may mean that the breast cancer has spread.

Blood sugar or insulin level may affect the test results in people with diabetes.

Risks

The amount of radiation used in a PET scan is low. It is about the same amount of radiation as in most CT scans. Also, the radiation does not last for very long in your body.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should let their doctor know before having this test. Infants and babies developing in the womb are more sensitive to the effects of radiation because their organs are still growing.

It is possible, although very unlikely, to have an allergic reaction to the radioactive substance. Some people have pain, redness, or swelling at the injection site.

References

Bassett LW, Lee-Felker S. Breast imaging screening and diagnosis. In: Bland KI, Copeland EM, Klimberg VS, Gradishar WJ, eds. The Breast: Comprehensive Management of Benign and Malignant Diseases. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 26.

Chernecky CC, Berger BJ. Positron emission tomography (PET) - diagnostic. In: Chernecky CC, Berger BJ, eds. Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures. 6th ed. St Louis, MO: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:892-894.

National Cancer Institute website. Breast cancer treatment (adult) (PDQ) - health professional version. www.cancer.gov/types/breast/hp/breast-treatment-pdq. Updated November 12, 2019. Accessed November 19, 2019.

Tabouret-Viaud C, Botsikas D, Delattre BM, et al. PET/MR in breast cancer. Semin Nucl Med. 2015;45(4):304-321. PMID: 26050658 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26050658.

    • Breast cancer

      Animation

    •  

      Breast cancer - Animation

      Of all the different types of cancers, breast cancer is one of the most talked about, and with good reason. One out of every eight women will develop breast cancer sometime in their life. That's why every woman should be thinking about how to protect herself from this disease. Breast cancer is cancer that forms in the breast. Usually, it begins in the tubes that transport milk from the breast to the nipple. If the cancer spreads to other parts of the breast or body, it's called invasive breast cancer. Some breast cancers are more aggressive, growing more quickly than others. Although women are 100 times more likely to develop breast cancer, men can also get the disease because they do have breast tissue. You're more likely to get breast cancer if you're over 50, you started your periods before age 12, or you have a close family member with the disease. Drinking more than a couple of glasses of alcohol a day and using hormone replacement therapy for several years also may increase your risk. The telltale sign of breast cancer is a lump in your breast or armpit. You may also notice a change in the shape, size, or texture of your breast, or have fluid coming from your nipple when you're not breastfeeding. If you notice any changes in your breasts, call your doctor. You'll probably need to have an imaging scan, such as a mammogram, MRI, or ultrasound. A piece of tissue may be removed from your breast, called a biopsy. With these tests, your doctor can tell whether you have breast cancer, and if so, determine whether or not it has spread. So, how do we treat breast cancer? That really depends on the type of cancer, and how quickly it's spreading. Your doctor may recommend that you have the cancer removed with surgery. Sometimes it's enough just to remove the lump. That's called a lumpectomy. In other cases, the doctor will need to remove the entire breast to get rid of all the cancer or prevent it from coming back. That's called a mastectomy. Other treatments for breast cancer include chemotherapy, medicines that kill cancer cells, and radiation therapy, which uses energy to destroy cancer. Women whose cancer is fueled by the hormone estrogen may receive hormone therapy to block the effects of estrogen on their cancer. Today's breast cancer treatments are better than ever. Many women who have breast cancer go on to live long, healthy lives. The outlook really depends on how fast the tumor is growing, and how far it has spread. That's why it's so important to report any changes in your breasts to your doctor as soon as you notice them. Women who are at an especially high risk for breast cancer because of their family history can talk to their doctor about taking medicine or even having surgery to reduce their risk.

    • Breast cancer

      Animation

    •  

      Breast cancer - Animation

      Of all the different types of cancers, breast cancer is one of the most talked about, and with good reason. One out of every eight women will develop breast cancer sometime in their life. That's why every woman should be thinking about how to protect herself from this disease. Breast cancer is cancer that forms in the breast. Usually, it begins in the tubes that transport milk from the breast to the nipple. If the cancer spreads to other parts of the breast or body, it's called invasive breast cancer. Some breast cancers are more aggressive, growing more quickly than others. Although women are 100 times more likely to develop breast cancer, men can also get the disease because they do have breast tissue. You're more likely to get breast cancer if you're over 50, you started your periods before age 12, or you have a close family member with the disease. Drinking more than a couple of glasses of alcohol a day and using hormone replacement therapy for several years also may increase your risk. The telltale sign of breast cancer is a lump in your breast or armpit. You may also notice a change in the shape, size, or texture of your breast, or have fluid coming from your nipple when you're not breastfeeding. If you notice any changes in your breasts, call your doctor. You'll probably need to have an imaging scan, such as a mammogram, MRI, or ultrasound. A piece of tissue may be removed from your breast, called a biopsy. With these tests, your doctor can tell whether you have breast cancer, and if so, determine whether or not it has spread. So, how do we treat breast cancer? That really depends on the type of cancer, and how quickly it's spreading. Your doctor may recommend that you have the cancer removed with surgery. Sometimes it's enough just to remove the lump. That's called a lumpectomy. In other cases, the doctor will need to remove the entire breast to get rid of all the cancer or prevent it from coming back. That's called a mastectomy. Other treatments for breast cancer include chemotherapy, medicines that kill cancer cells, and radiation therapy, which uses energy to destroy cancer. Women whose cancer is fueled by the hormone estrogen may receive hormone therapy to block the effects of estrogen on their cancer. Today's breast cancer treatments are better than ever. Many women who have breast cancer go on to live long, healthy lives. The outlook really depends on how fast the tumor is growing, and how far it has spread. That's why it's so important to report any changes in your breasts to your doctor as soon as you notice them. Women who are at an especially high risk for breast cancer because of their family history can talk to their doctor about taking medicine or even having surgery to reduce their risk.

      A Closer Look

       

      Tests for PET scan for breast cancer

       

      Review Date: 7/26/2018

      Reviewed By: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. Editorial update 10/15/2019. Editorial update 11/19/2019.

      The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., a business unit of Ebix, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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