Frequently asked questions
The following are some frequently asked questions about Positron Emission Tomography (PET).
1. Will my PET/CT scan hurt?
No. The entire procedure is virtually painless except for a small IV needle placed into a vein in your arm to check your blood sugar level and to inject the tracer.
2. How will I feel after the scan is complete?
There are no known side effects from the tracer or scan itself.
3. Who reads the scan?
A qualified Nuclear Medicine physician with PET experience.
4. Will I get my results from the scan before I leave?
No. Due to the large amount of data collected during your scan, data processing takes time and must be completed before our physicians can view the images. Once the images are processed and evaluated, the results will be sent to your family physician.
5. Can I take my medications before coming in for my PET/CT scan?
Most medications won't affect scan results and are okay to take. However, medications with sugar (i.e. cough/cold syrups/throat lozenges) can affect the scan results because of their high sugar content. If you have any questions about the medications you are taking, please contact our reception desk at: 604.707.5951.
6. Can I have a PET/CT scan if I am diabetic?
Yes, but we will need to go over some pre-scan instructions before you arrive. Please refer to the patient preparation page for further instructions or call our reception desk at: 604.707.5951.
7. Can I have someone sit with me during the scan?
Due to the small amount of radiation exposure you receive during the scan, we do not encourage other people to sit with you during the procedure. A general guideline is that only when medically necessary should you receive radiation exposure no matter how small that exposure may be.
8. Why does the whole procedure take 2-3 hours in total?
Upon arrival, a technologist and/or a doctor will explain the procedure in detail and answer any question you may have. An IV will then be placed in a vein for injection of the tracer followed by a 60 minute "uptake period" allowing the tracer to distribute throughout your body. We will then perform your PET/CT scan which will last for about 15-45 minutes depending on the scanning protocol required. All in all, you end up spending about 2-3 hours with us.
9. Is the radiation harmful?
The PET/CT scan is considered a very safe procedure. The amount of radiation exposure from the entire procedure is considered safe and medically necessary by your physician. Also, the tracer leaves your body very quickly. Within 24 hours after scan conclusion, the tracer will be virtually undetectable by our sensitive scanners.
10. Can I eat before coming in for my scan?
No. It is very important that you don't eat or drink anything (except plain water) for at least 6 hours before your PET/CT scan. Sugars that your body absorbs from food can greatly alter the scan quality and results. Fasting ensures that your blood sugar level is not too high prior to starting the procedure. Water is recommended prior to your arrival for the scan. Please refer to the patient preparation page for further information and instruction.
11. How do I get to my appointment?
The Functional Imaging Departement (PET) is located on the 1st floor at BC Cancer's Vancouver Centre. The building address is:
600 West 10th Avenue
Vancouver, B.C. V5Z 4E6
PET Reception: 604.707.5951
12. Can I still have a PET/CT scan if I'm allergic to IV contrast used in Computed Tomography (CT)?
Yes. The CT portion of the scan is commonly done without contrast. The tracer that is injected for the PET portion is not a contrast type agent and will not cause an allergic reaction.
13. What should/can I wear to my appointment?
Loose comfortable clothing without metal is recommended. Any metal items in clothing or worn as jewellery (i.e. metal buttons, zippers, piercings, hairpins, etc) will affect the scan quality and will need to be removed for the scan. If necessary, you will be asked to change into a patient gown to ensure scan quality.
14. What is a radiotracer/radiopharmaceutical?
A radiotracer/radiopharmaceutical is a radioactive compound that can trace a certain body function without any side effects. Depending on how they are made, there are many different radiotracers that can show entirely different body functions. In PET, we most commonly use a radioactive form of sugar which can show different areas of metabolic activity in the body indicating the presence or absence of disease.
15. Do I have to pay for my scan?
If you are covered by the provincial health plan and your indication meets BC Cancer's specific approved indications for PET/CT scanning, you will not be charged a fee for your procedure if done at our facility.
16. How do I get referred for a PET/CT scan?
If your physician feels that a PET/CT scan is medically necessary and meets BC Cancer's criteria for currently approved indications, he/she will contact our centre to book an appointment. Once we have been able to book the appointment, we will then contact you to confirm the date and time as well as go over any instructions you will need to follow prior to arriving.
17. Do I have to be a cancer patient at BC Cancer to get a PET/CT scan?
No. If you have never been to BC Cancer but have been approved to have a PET/CT scan done at our facility, we will first generate an BC Cancer patient identification number and then book your procedure as soon as possible.