The Breast PET Process

What Is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is an uncontrolled growth in cells that leads to the formation of a tumor. Some breast tumors are benign (non-cancerous) and do not cause harm. They grow slowly and do not spread to other areas of the body. Malignant breast tumors are cancerous; left unchecked, cancer cells can make their way into the lymph nodes that provide a pathway to spread to other areas of the body.  Breast cancer kills only if it spreads out of the breast so early detection and treatment is critical. 


If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer or have a suspicious mammogram, your doctor should refer you for a Breast PET Scan, an advanced application of positron emission mammography or PEM scanning.  Unlike large PET systems that scan a patient’s entire body, the Naviscan Solo II High Resolution Breast PET Scanner is designed specifically for imaging breasts and other localized areas of concern.   The Solo II scanner isolates and provides focused images of the suspected area.   This produces a very sharp, detailed image of abnormal tissue, such as cancerous tumors.  With the Solo II Breast PET Scanner, doctors can see cancers as small as 1.6 mm, about the width of a grain of rice.  These images pinpoint the location of suspicious masses, giving your physician a “map” upon which they can base your treatment options and/or surgical plan.  There is no higher resolution scanner on the market today. 


Armed with the highest specificity images available, doctors can better plan for and treat breast cancers and patients have the confidence in knowing they have the most accurate cancer detection possible.  For example, this accuracy could result in breast-conserving surgery or lumpectomies. Also, knowing the exact location and extent of the cancer guides doctors during surgery and helps ensure that they remove all suspicious tissue.  Your doctor may also use Breast PET to monitor treatment (e.g. chemotherapy) or to check for a recurrence of disease.  With Breast PET, your physician is able to detect breast cancers earlier and take action.


How does Breast PET work?

What physicians see in a Breast PET image that distinguishes the cancerous cells from healthy tissue is the buildup of an injected, radioactive substance called a radiotracer. Breast PET uses a radiotracer based on sugar (glucose). Cancer cells absorb and accumulate the sugar faster than healthy tissue and are clearly visible in the image. Essentially, Breast PET captures a snapshot of the cellular activity occurring within the cancerous tissue. So not only does Breast PET reveal the size, shape and location of a suspicious mass; it is over 90% accurate in identifying if the mass is cancerous.


Preparing for a Breast PET Scan

Your doctor will provide specific instructions to prepare you for a Breast PET scan. To ensure that you absorb the radioactive sugar properly, you will be instructed not to eat or drink anything except water and nondiabetic medication six (6) hours before your appointment. These instructions may differ if you are diabetic or have low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) so make sure to inform your doctor and clinic staff if you have either of these conditions. Generally, neither condition will prevent you from having a Breast PET scan. You may also bring a snack with you to the appointment to eat once the nurse or technologist gives you the word.  You should wear loose, comfortable clothing to your appointment and at some point during the preparation process, you will be asked to remove your top and bra and given a hospital gown to wear during the scanning procedure.


What Should I Expect During the Procedure?

About an hour before the Breast PET scan, a nurse or technologist will take a drop of blood from your finger to test your blood sugar level. If within an acceptable range, a small amount of radioactive sugar will be injected into your arm. You will then be directed to a room and asked to sit quietly for about 60 minutes, to give your body time to absorb the sugar.


You will then be led into the Breast PET scanning room and seated in a comfortable chair.  As Breast PET is a localized, open air scanner, there are no issues related to claustrophobia.   The technologist will scan each breast separately using gentle immobilization and mild compressions.  A typical Breast PET examination includes two scans per breast and the entire procedure, including the preparation time, should take less than two hours.  The accuracy of the Breast PET scan is extremely high and not affected by dense breasts or menstrual cycle effects.


Once your Breast PET scan is completed, high-resolution images are generated and read by a physician, who should have a full report sent to your doctor within 24 to 48 hours. Your doctor then informs you of the results.


Is the Procedure Safe?

The entire procedure is very safe.  The same radioactive sugar injected in the patient's arm prior to a Breast PET scan is routinely used for many other medical imaging procedures. The radiation exposure is about the same as that used in CT (or CAT) scans, a technology that has been used for decades. The radioactivity in the sugar fades quickly and leaves no detectable trace after 24 hours.

Want to learn more about Breast PET and why it could be the best option for you?