In the 1970s PET scanning was formally introduced to the medical community. At that time it was seen as an exciting new research modality that opened doors through which medical researchers could watch, study, and understand the biology of human disease. In 1976, the radiopharmaceutical fluorine-18-2-fluoro-2-deoxyglucose (FDG), a marker of sugar metabolism with a half-life of 110 minutes, enabled tracer doses to be administered safely to the patient with low radiation exposure. The development of radiopharmaceuticals like FDG made it easier to study living beings, and set the groundwork for more in-depth research into using PET to diagnose and evaluate the effect of treatment on human disease. To perform PET studies in the late 1970s, a large staff was needed: physicists to run the cyclotron that produces the fluorine-18 and to oversee the scanner, chemists to make the tracers such as FDG, and dedicated, specialist physicians.
During the 1980s the technology that underlies PET advanced greatly. Commercial PET scanners were developed with more precise resolution and images. As a result, many of the steps required for producing a PET scan became automated and could be performed by a trained technician and experienced physician, thereby reducing the cost and complexity of the procedure. Smaller, self-shielded cyclotrons were developed, making it possible to install cyclotrons at more locations.
Over the last several years, the major advance in this technology has been the combining of a CT scanner and a PET scanner in one device. The modern PET/CT scanner allows a study to be done in a shorter amount of time but still provides more diagnostic information.
PET/CT procedures are widely available today. The technology is robust and provides high-quality images. Some of the earlier roadblocks to having or using a PET or PET/CT device-such as availability of particular radiopharmaceuticals-are no longer present.
Wentworth-Douglass Hospital currently offers a wide range of PET/CT imaging every Thursday.