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    Brain PET scan

    Brain positron emission tomography; PET scan - brain

    A brain positron emission tomography (PET) scan is an imaging test of the brain. It uses a radioactive substance called a tracer to look for disease or injury in the brain.

    APET scan shows how the brain and its tissues are working.Other imaging tests, such asmagnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans onlyreveal the structure of the brain.

    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. Or you breathe in the radioactive material as a gas.

    The tracer travels through your blood and collects in organs and tissues. The tracer helps the doctor see certain areas or diseases more clearly.

    You wait nearby as the tracer is absorbed by your body. This usually takes about 1 hour.

    Then, you 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 3-D pictures. The images are displayed on a monitor forthe doctor to read.

    You must lie still during test so that the machine can produce clear images of your brain. You may be asked to read or name letters if your memory is being tested.

    The test takes between 30 minutes and 2 hours.

    You may be asked not to eat anything for 4 - 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 have any allergies to injected dye (contrast).
    • You have take insulin for diabetes. You will need special preparation.

    Always tell your health care provider about the medicines you are taking, including those bought without a prescription. Sometimes, medicines interfere with the test results.

    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.

    A PET scan canshow the size, shape, and function of the brain, so your doctor can make sure it is working as well as it should. It is most often used when other tests, such as MRI scan or CT scan, do not provide enough information.

    This test can be used to:

    • Diagnose cancer
    • Prepare for epilepsy surgery
    • Help diagnose dementia if other tests and exams do not provide enough information
    • Tell the difference between Parkinson's disease and other movement disorders

    Several PET scans may be taken to determine how well you are responding to treatment for cancer or another illness.

    There are no problems detected in the size, shape, or function of the brain. There are no areas in which the tracer has abnormally collected.

    Abnormal results may be due to:

    • Alzheimer’s disease or dementia
    • Brain tumors
    • Epilepsy
    • Movement disorders (such as Parkinson’s disease)


    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 long in your body.

    Women who are pregnant or are 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, though very unlikely, to have an allergic reaction to the radioactive substance. Some people have pain, redness, or swelling at the injection site.


    It is possible to have false results on a PET scan. Blood sugar or insulin levels may affect the test results in people with diabetes.

    PET scansmay be donealong with a CT scan. This combination scan is called a PET/CT.


    Meyer PT, Rijntjes M, Weiller C. Neuroimaging: Functional neuroimaging. In: Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, eds.Bradley’s Neurology in Clinical Practice.6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap33C.

    Scott AM, Poon AMT. PET imaging of brain tumors. In: Ell PJ, Gambhir SS, eds. Nuclear Medicine in Clinical Diagnosis and Treatment. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill-Livingstone; 2004:chap 26.


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              Tests for Brain PET scan

              Review Date: 1/22/2013

              Reviewed By: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Palm Beach Cancer Institute, West Palm Beach, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.

              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., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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