There are differing opinions about breast cancer survivors getting a PET scan. Even when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I did not get a PET scan. I had a CT scan. My oncologists always told me that PET scans were not done as follow-ups because of lack of evidence that PET scans revealed recurrence or metastasis, too much radiation, cost, and anxiety. I always thought these were bizarre reasons for not following up for recurrence of breast cancer. I had already had 26 weeks of radiation. How much more could one test do? Doctors told me that the patient knew better than anyone if there was something unusual going on in their body. My follow-up exams consisted of breast self exams by the doctor and asking how I felt. There were no blood tests done. Not even, the simple blood tumor marking blood test. Some doctors do scans and blood tests as a regular follow-up. If in doubt, seek a second opinion.
I believe the real reason lies in the cost to perform a PET scan and getting the insurance to cover it. The blood test for tumor markers is not very expensive so I never understood why a doctor would not perform that just as a precaution.
A PET scan is Positron Emission Tomography. It is a nuclear test. I didn’t really know what to expect when I had my first PET scan. It was early in the morning and could not have anything to eat six hours before. No exercise 24 hours before the test. Could drink water. First, I went into a separate office. The nurse then asked a series of questions. The nurse will go to another room and get the radioactive sugar injection. The hardest part for me is the needle and finding a vein. After the injection is given , I went to a separate room with nothing in it but a recliner, warm blankets, bottle of water and a camera. I was told not to move not even read a book or watch tv. I had to sit there still for 45 minutes before the PET scan began. The nurses watch you from a viewing room. Went to another room and the scan began . Thank goodness I am not claustrophobic. The test lasted 30 minutes. Time can vary depending on what areas are being scanned. At CTCA, the oncologist gets the results within a few hours. Sometimes you would wait a couple of days for the result. The waiting for the results begins. Try to occupy your time with something distracting. For me, praying works!
You will meet the doctor and review the PET scan results. An example of my result
MUSCULOSKELETAL: The osseous metastases have progressed. Although there is now alarge sclerotic metastasis visualized in the left aspect of the L3 vertebral body, the activity has slightly decreased, with maximum SUV of 10.2 (previously 10.8). However, the extent of the active lesion has increased. There is new activity in the right acetabulum on image 220, with maximum SUV of 12.1, compatible with metastasis. No definite CT correlate is visualized. A new sclerotic lesion is visualized in the right femoral head measuring 1.0 cm which is hyper-metabolic, with maximum SUV of 6.7. A new sclerotic metastasis is also noted in the left femoral head, with maximum SUV of 5.7. The metastasis in the left anterior acetabulum has increased in extent and activity, demonstrating a maximum SUV of 10.5 (previously 8.2).
To me reading this the only thing that stood out to me was metastasis. I knew that meant the cancer had spread. The other parts were confusing. My doctor,explained it all to me and what the next course of action would be.
A PET scan does not need to be a cause of worry. It should be a regular test to monitor a patient’s chance of recurrence.
For more information about PET scans and how they work
Lean on your faith and God during these times.
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10
When I was waiting in the room for the PET scan, that left lots of time for praying!
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
I will get my follow-up PET scan in 3 to 6 months. I am praying for no progression and decreasing sized lesions.
I believe more studies should be done on breast cancer survivors need for PET scans.