A radiologist prepares a man for PET imaging, which has many benefits in oncology

Understanding the benefits of PET Imaging in Oncology

Positron Emission Tomography, or PET imaging provides several benefits in oncology. PET permits a physician to accurately image many organs of the body with a single scan to detect malignancy. PET has demonstrated usefulness in cost-effective, whole-body metastatic surveys, allowing patients to avoid biopsies.

The benefits of PET include non-invasive differentiation of tumors from radiation necrosis; the possibility to change the course of ineffective chemotherapy; and avoidance of unnecessary diagnostic and therapeutic procedures.

Applications for PET imaging in oncology include:

Brain Tumor

  • Differentiate a recurrent tumor from radiation necrosis
  • Differentiate primary CNS lymphoma from toxoplasmosis
  • Exclude brain metastatic disease

Breast Cancer

  • Identify involved axillary nodes or distant metastatic disease
  • Exclude local recurrence of disease
  • Evaluate response to treatment

Colorectal Cancer

  • Detect locally recurrent or distant metastatic disease in patients with elevated or rising CEA who may be candidates for surgical re-excision
  • Rule out distant metastases for preoperative evolution

Head & Neck Cancer

  • Determine extent of local, regional, and distant disease
  • Detect recurrent/residual tumor following definitive therapy

Lung Cancer

  • Distinguish malignant pulmonary nodules from benign ones
  • Stage mediastinal or distant metastatic disease
  • Use as part of radiotherapy treatment planning
  • Detect recurrent/residual tumor following definitive therapy


  • Determine extent of disease and measure treatment response


  • Identify extent of local and regional disease spread in patients with high risk melanoma (e.g., primary tumor less than 4mm) or in suspected recurrence

Musculoskeletal Tumors

  • Evaluate local extent of disease and exclude distant metastases
  • Measure treatment response and exclude recurrent/residual tumor following definitive therapy

Ovarian Cancer

  • Detect recurrent/residual tumor prior to surgical exploration or additional chemotherapy

Pancreatic Cancer

  • Differentiation of benign processes such as pancreatitis, mucinous cyst adenoma, and pseudocyst from malignant disease
  • Rule out distant metastases during preoperative evaluation

Thyroid Cancer

  • Detect metastatic or locally recurrent disease in patient with elevated thyroglobulin after definitive initial treatment and negative I-131 examination

Sources & Studies

  1. Conti, P.S., Lilien, D.L., Howley, K., Keppler, J., Grafton, S.T., Bading, J., PET and F-18 FDG in Oncology: A Clinical Update. Nuclear Medicine and Biology,(1996) 23:717-735.
  2. Di Chiro, G., Positron Emission Tomography Using FDG in Brain Tumors: A Powerful Diagnostic and Prognostic Tool. Investigational Radiology, (1986) 2:360-371.