This test makes images that show activity in body tissues. A substance that gives off a tiny amount of radiation is put into your body. This substance goes to the part of your body that is most active. A machine can then detect where that substance is. PET can be done for many body parts, including:
A PET scan may be done for a number of reasons, including:
Complications are rare. If you are planning to have a PET scan, your doctor will review a list of possible complications.
Some people have a bad reaction to the contrast dye. The contrast is the chemical that improves the details in the pictures. In some people, the contrast can cause allergic reactions or kidney problems.
A PET scan does use radiation. You and your doctor will weigh the harms and benefits of this test. A PET scan may not be advised if you are pregnant.
Be sure to discuss these risks with your doctor before the test. Let your doctor know about any allergies or unrelated illnesses you may have.
You will be given a radioactive substance. This may be done through an injection, or in some cases, you will be asked to breathe in a gas. It will travel through your blood to the area of the body being studied. It takes 30-90 minutes for the substance to be absorbed by the tissue. When the substance has been absorbed, the scan can take place.
You will lie on a table and be moved into a machine that looks like a large, square doughnut. This machine detects and records the energy levels from the substance that was injected earlier. The images are viewed on a computer monitor. The scan lasts about 30-45 minutes. You may be asked to perform specific tasks before or during the test. For example, during a heart PET scan, you may be asked to walk on a treadmill.
Except for the pinprick from the injection, a PET scan is a painless procedure. People who are uncomfortable in closed or tight spaces may have some anxiety.
The images will show activity levels as different colors or degrees of brightness. A radiologist will review the images and send the results to your doctor. It may take a few days for your doctor to receive the report.
Radiology Info—Radiological Society of North America
Society of Nuclear Medicine
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
PET scan. NHS Choices website. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/PET-scan/Pages/Introduction.aspx. Updated July 3, 2013. Accessed September 5, 2014.
Positron emission tomography—computed tomography (PET/CT). Radiological Society of North America Radiology Info website. Available at: http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=pet. Updated March 28, 2013. Accessed September 5, 2014.
Positron emission tomography (PET scan). Cleveland Clinic website. Available at: http://my.clevelandclinic.org/imaging-institute/imaging-services/hic-pet-scan.aspx. Updated February 23, 2009. Accessed September 5, 2014.
Positron emission tomography (PET scan). Johns Hopkins Medicine website. Available at: http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/test_procedures/neurological/positron_emission_tomography_pet_scan_92,P07654. Accessed September 5, 2014.
Last reviewed September 2016 by Daus Mahnke, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.