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Frequently Asked Questions

Study Subject in PET Brain Scanner

What is PET?

Positron Emission Tomography (PET) is diagnostic examination that provides visual images of organ function (including blood flow, glucose metabolism, and oxygen consumption). Prior to the exam, a radioactive compound is injected into a patient’s body where it is absorbed by body tissues and organs. During whole body scans, the patient lies on a table that slowly slides through a PET scanner. Patients undergoing brain scans lie on a stationary table with only their head placed in the scanner. Radioactive signals are detected by the scanner and converted into 3-D computer images of organ function.

PET scans detect biochemical changes in tissues and organ functions that aid physicians in diagnosing heart disease, brain tumors, stroke, cancer, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and many other disorders. Research scientists use PET scans to study brain activity and chemical processes involved in diseases such as schizophrenia, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, alcohol dependence, and substance abuse.

How much radiation does a patient receive during a PET scan?

Radiation exposure varies by study, however, the typical radiation dose that a patient or study subject will receive from a PET scan is about 10-15% of the allowable dose for a radiation worker. This dose has not been found to be associated with any significant risk.

Does the PET Center provide diagnostic scans?

The Yale University PET Center conducts research in human and animals subjects. Patients seeking clinical PET services for disease diagnosis and treatment monitoring should discuss scanning center locations and services with their physician and may wish to contact Yale-New Haven Hospital.

How long does a PET scan take?

A typical diagnostic PET scan conducted on a patient takes approximately 60-90 minutes. Subjects participating in research studies may be involved in several scanning sessions conducted over a period of days or weeks, depending on the study design.

Are PET scans painful?

Every effort will be made to make the patient or subject as comfortable as possible during the scanning process. Patients may feel a slight pinprick from the intravenous injection and minor bruising may occur at the injection site. Patients will be instructed to lie as still as possible during the scan and may find it somewhat uncomfortable to hold this position over time. Those sensitive to enclosed areas may also experience some anxiety as they pass through the scanner.

What are the benefits?

PET enables physicians to more accurately diagnose, treat, and monitor disease while minimizing the need for more invasive diagnostic procedures.
PET scans provide an opportunity for earlier disease diagnosis and intervention prior to the onset of structural tissue damage.
PET enables researchers to detect early biomarkers of disease that can aid in drug development.
Research scans may not provide a subject with any direct benefits, however, the information gained from the study may provide future benefits to others.

What are the risks?

The risk of radiation exposure is minimal because the radioactive tracers used in PET scans are very short-lived and easily eliminated by the body.
Subjects who are pregnant or breast-feeding will not be allowed to participate in research studies. It is best to avoid radiation exposure to unborn or nursing children since they are more sensitive to radiation than adults.

Does the PET Center provide veterinary services?

PET is an abbreviation for Positron Emission Tomography. No veterinary services are provided at the PET Center.