PET scan for pancreatic cancer

A PET (Positron Emission tomography) scan will produce a three-dimensional, colour image of your body. It shows how well the tissues are working and can be used to help diagnose cancers.

CT scan

Doctors can see the difference between scar tissue or an active cancer in the body.

A PET scan for pancreatic cancer can show:

  • Whether there is a tumour present in the pancreas;Help to stage the cancer;
  • Show whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body;
  • Help your specialists decide on the best treatment for you;
  • Show how well current treatment is working;
  • Identify the difference between scar tissue and tissue that is cancerous.

What is a PET-scan and how does it work?

PET scans are becoming more widely used in the NHS but they are still very expensive and only a few specialist hospitals in the UK have one.

Patients may be asked to fast for about 4 to 6 hours prior to your screen. A radiographer will give you an injection of a very small amount of a harmless radioactive substance (radiotracer) alongside glucose, into a vein. You will need to wait for about 1 hour while the radiotracer spreads through your body. You will then be asked to lie down on the flat bed of the scanner unit, which will move through the circular scanner at the end.

The radiotracer releases gamma waves (a form of radiation) that a camera in the PET scan can detect. When the dye and glucose are injected into the body, it travels to places where glucose is used for energy. Cancer tumours use glucose in a different way to normal tissue, and the PET scan shows these differences and can tell doctors whether cancer is present.

The radiographer will control the scan from outside the room and they will be able to see and talk to you. You will need to stay as still as possible while the scan is taking place.

The amount of radiation is very small (no more than you have during a normal x-ray) and it stays in your body for only a few hours.

Sometimes a CT scan can show that there may be cancer left after treatments such as chemotherapy. A PET scan can confirm whether or not it is active cancer or just scar tissue left over as a result of treatments.

There are usually no side effects from this type of scan. It can take up to an hour to complete and you will need to lie still throughout the procedure.

The Information Standard Logo The information provided in this site, or through links to other websites, is not a substitute for medical or professional care and should not be relied upon as such. Read our disclaimer.

Sources and references for this information product will be supplied on request. Please contact us quoting the Information Product number below:

Information Product № Published 03/10/2019
Last Updated 15/10/2019 Next Review Due 03/10/2022