Cancer Care

PET-CT scans: moving oncology care forward

April 1, 2024 Word for Word Media 0Comment

Technological advancements in cancer diagnostics play a critical role in improving cancer treatment outcomes.


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By precisely determining the location, size, stage and molecular characteristics of tumours, early detection rates of metastatic and recurrent disease can be improved, and advancement in effective personalised therapies can continue. The global increase in cancer-related mortality highlights the urgency of these advancements.

Various technologies are utilised in diagnostic radiology, such as X-rays, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and ultrasound (using sound waves), as well as nuclear medicine modalities, such as positron emission tomography (PET) and positron emission tomography-computed tomography (PET-CT).

Various diagnostic technologies are used to treat cancer, from traditional radiological services, such as X-rays, CT, and MRI, and ultrasound (using sound waves) to nuclear medicine technologies, such as PET-CT and single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT-CT). SPECT-CT is gamma imaging and a sister modality to PET-CT.

Both of these nuclear medicine technologies use small amounts of radiation to provide functional information about the disease process. Nuclear medicine can assist in the accurate staging of cancer, as well as in the treatment of particular benign and malignant conditions (thyroid-, prostate- and neuroendocrine cancer). Accurate staging and early detection of disease recurrence with PET-CT is beneficial for the precise planning of treatment strategies and can ultimately improve patients’ outcomes.

PET-CT scans explained

Imagine a technology so advanced that it can show what’s happening inside your body at cellular level. That’s what PET-CT scans do. They combine the superpowers of PET and CT to create detailed 3D-images of your body’s biological functions.

By introducing a small amount of radioactivity into the body, PET-CT scans light up areas of abnormal metabolism or function, including fast-growing cancers and infections, like bright stars in the night sky.

Why are PET-CT scans game-changers?

PET-CT scans aren’t just another medical test. The images developed through PET-CT allows doctors to pinpoint the exact location of tumours. In some cases, assess if a lesion is benign or malignant, and determine the best course of action for treatment.

This means patients receive personalised care tailored exactly to their needs, mitigating the risks of over or under-treatment. From prostate to ovarian cancer, PET-CT scans are versatile diagnostic imaging tools, used in diagnosing and managing a wide array of cancers. They are crucial in helping clinicians to understand the disease landscape within the body, making them an invaluable resource in personalised cancer treatment strategies.

“As we move forward, the integration of PET-CT and SPECT-CT technologies in oncology care are set to play a crucial role in the fight against cancer,” says Adam Pyle, Life Healthcare Chief Executive Officer South Africa.

PET-CT scans are commonly used for, but not limited to:

  • Prostate cancer
  • Lymphoma
  • Breast cancer
  • Melanoma
  • Lung cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Cervical cancer
  • Head and neck cancer
  • Ovarian cancer

The role of PET-CT in modern cancer care

By integrating PET-CT and SPECT-CT technologies into oncology services, doctors and patients have access to the most accurate information about the extent and severity of the disease. This not only aids in early detection of metastatic disease, but also in crafting precise treatment plans, significantly improving the chances of recovery.

PET-CT has long been established globally as one of the leading modalities for cancer care and, increasingly, for other disease areas. Advances in PET-CT is continually evolving and is recommended in global best practices across a wide range of clinical scenarios for cancer.

PET-CT in South Africa

South Africa’s PET-CT provision is, unfortunately, a little behind international benchmarks which is why Life Healthcare, one of South Africa’s leading private healthcare organisations and the country’s second largest private hospital group, has included diagnostics as a key focus in the continuum of care. Investment has been made in acquiring PET-CT facilities and entering a joint venture to develop PET-CT radiotracers (isotypes) in South Africa, needed for PET-CT scans.

Accessing PET-CT

Seek guidance from an oncologist to understand how PET-CT can be utilised for assessing and managing a specific cancer case. They will need to inform you of the benefits of PET-CT and refer you for a PET-CT scan where international guidelines recommend so. If you have medical aid, make sure to obtain an authorisation number ahead of the scan.

Adam Pyle

Adam Pyle – Life Healthcare Chief Executive Officer South Africa


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This article is sponsored by Life Healthcare in the interest of education, awareness and support. The content and opinions expressed are entirely the healthcare professional’s own work and not influenced by Life Healthcare in any way.


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