Skip to Content

PET-CT (Position Emission Tomography and Computed Tomography) at UPMC

What Is PET-CT?

A PET-CT is a painless imaging scan that can detect cancer and certain heart and brain diseases.

The PET scan is like a high-tech 'camera' that turns a small amount of radiation into pictures. Meanwhile, the CT scan uses x-rays to show the organs and tissues.

PET-CT scans are a useful tool in:

  • Choosing the best treatment.
  • Seeing how well treatment works.
  • Staging cancers.

Doctors use PET-CT for many types of cancer, including:

  • Brain cancer.
  • Cervical cancer.
  • Colorectal cancer.
  • Esophageal cancer.
  • Head and neck cancers.
  • Lung cancer.
  • Lymphoma.
  • Melanoma. 

What PET-CT Scans Do We Offer?

Find an imaging location near you

What Are the Benefits of High-Tech PET-CT Scanners?

At UPMC Imaging Services, our PET-CT scanners:

  • Deliver the highest sensitivity in the industry. This means doctors can detect cancer in the early stages.
  • Allow for faster scans.
  • Lowers radiation exposure for each person.

If you need a PET-CT scan, UPMC has over 100 imaging centers throughout Pennsylvania, western New York, and western Maryland.

How Do I Prep for My PET-CT Scan?

The imaging clinic will give you details on how to prep for your PET-CT scan.

Typically, you'll need to stop eating and drinking four to six hours before the scan. You can continue to drink water. Avoid any vigorous exercise 6 hours before your appointment, and preferably for 24 hours.

Let the imaging clinic staff know:

  • What medicines you take. They'll tell you if you need to stop taking any for the scan. Some drugs, like insulin, can affect how the body absorbs the radioactive tracer. This can reduce the quality of images.
  • Any allergies you have. Some may put you at risk of allergic reaction to the CT contrast, if being given.
  • If you are pregnant, think you may be pregnant, or are breastfeeding. They may suggest you delay the scan until after pregnancy.

On the day of your PET-CT, don't wear jewelry and clothing with metal, like metal zippers.

What to Expect During a PET-CT Scan

If you have metal in your clothing — like snaps or zippers — you'll need to change into a gown.

The imaging tech will inject a radioactive sugar or tracer. You'll wait about an hour so the body can absorb it.

The tracer:

  • Lets the doctor see how the blood flows in the brain or body.
  • Concentrates most in the active cells, like cancer cells.
  • Flushes out of your body completely over the next day.

The scan takes around 30 minutes. It may take more or less time based on what the doctor needs to see.

During your PET-CT, you will:

  • Be awake. The scanner is open on both sides, so most people don't experience claustrophobia. If you have anxiety about the scan, us know. We can offer a mild sedative.
  • Lie on a table that automatically moves through the scanner, shaped like a donut.
  • Hear the clicking and whirring sounds of the machine.
  • Be able to talk to the technologist during the scan if needed.

After Your PET-CT Scan

You can leave the clinic shortly after the test. If you asked for a sedative, you'll need someone to drive you home.

After the test, you can eat and drink as usual and resume regular activity.

Drink several glasses of water for a few hours after you PET-CT to help flush the tracer out of the body.

Your PET-CT test results

You won't get the results right away, as your doctor will closely study the images. Your doctor will call you or book a visit to discuss the results.

You can also sign in to your free UPMC patient portal account to view your PET-CT results.