PET-CT Scans at the Department of Radiation Oncology

In addition to a CT scan, UPMC doctors use PET scans to get a better understanding of your body's organs and tissues. PET scans can detect abnormal activity and be more sensitive than other imaging tests.

What Is a PET-CT Scan?

PET-CT scanning is one of the most powerful diagnostic tools available. It allows doctors to discover the precise location of tumors.

PET-CT works by merging two imaging techniques, each of which records a different part of the body. PET-CT stands for:

  • PET stands for positron emission tomography.
  • CT stands for computed tomography.

Imaging Technique

  • PET creates an image that reflects your body's metabolic and biochemical activity using a low level of radiation, useful for targeting tumors.
    • You receive an injection with a small amount of radioactive sugar that the scanner can see through the body. Cancer cells — because they grow faster than healthy cells — often consume much of the sugar. This highlights their presence within the image, allowing the scanner to make precise images of the tumor.
  • CT sees a 360-degree view of the body, useful for taking 3D pictures.
    • Similar to x-rays, CT scans show a higher level of detail and take more accurate pictures of the brain and body.

Combining the images from the two scanners provides a complete picture of the tumor's location, size, and shape.

Doctors then use this information to:

  • Diagnose and stage the disease.
  • Plan your treatment.
  • Track the progress of your treatment.

What Are the Benefits of PET-CT Scans?


The level of detail of PET-CT images:

  • Helps oncologists reduce the amount of healthy tissue they treat with radiation.
  • Often identifies previously unsuspected cancer-bearing tissues.
  • Allows for more effective and tailored treatments.

PET-CT Scans For Cancer

Experts at UPMC use PET-CT scans to:

  • Determine whether a tumor is cancerous.
  • Identify lymph node cancers accurately.
  • Detecting metastatic tumors earlier.
  • Evaluate the response to therapy.
  • Assess the return of cancer.

Cancer Types We Diagnose with PET-CT

The introduction of PET-CT has made it easier to diagnose people with head and neck cancer and melanoma, two formerly hard-to-spot cancer types.

And, it provides greater diagnostic accuracy for many other cancers, including:

In 1998, UPMC became home to the first PET-CT scanner. We've since used this technology in more than 10,000 clinical cases.

Mobile PET-CT

Despite the benefits of PET-CT, the cost of the equipment limited its availability to larger hospitals.

To bring PET-CT closer to patients, UPMC offers a mobile PET-CT unit. This allows many smaller community cancer centers to share equipment and provide the benefits of PET-CT scans, without requiring extra travel from home.

Radiation oncologists evaluate the diagnostic images onsite or send them to radiologists at hospital-based locations for review.

PET-CT Imaging Locations

PET-CT imaging is available at hospital-based locations and at many UPMC Hillman Cancer Center radiation oncology network locations.

Contact Us About Radiation Oncology at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center

To learn more about radiation treatments or to make an appointment you can: