September 25, 2021

PET/CT scan technology used in evaluating a patient’s breast cancer, and available here locally

One of the many tools medical oncologists use in diagnosing and evaluating cancer is one that helps reveal the metabolic or biochemical function of tissues and organs. The PET scan uses a radioactive drug (tracer) to show both normal and abnormal metabolic activity. It can often detect the abnormal metabolism of the tracer in diseases before the disease shows up on other imaging tests, such as computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

“This advanced nuclear imaging technique combines positron emission tomography (PET) and computed tomography (CT) into one machine revealing information about both the structure and function of cells and tissues in the body, including cancerous cells that may be growing,” said Mohsen Mahani, Medical Oncologist.

“It’s become a vital tool in evaluating breast cancer patients after cancer has been detected, especially when determining if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.”


After being injected with a tracer through the hand or arm, the tracer then collects into areas of the body that have higher levels of metabolic or biochemical activity, which often pinpoints the location of the disease through bright spots. Because of their effectiveness, PET scans are useful in:

  • Revealing whether your cancer has spread
  • Checking whether a cancer treatment is working
  • Finding a cancer recurrence

“PET/CT scan allows us to not only confirm a cancer growth, but also gives us valuable information on staging – where the cancer is, where the cancer has spread, and if it is affecting vital organs,” said Mahani. “This ultimately allows us to develop the most effective treatment plan for the patient.”


With a $1.5 million investment by the Cigarroa Clinic, once breast cancer has been diagnosed in a patient, an individualized cancer treatment plan is created using PET/CT scan to identify the correct location, extent, and stage of the cancer. PET/CT scan can also be used throughout the patient’s cancer treatment, giving oncologists a closer look at the progress of the patient’s treatment plan.

“PET/CT scan has given us a huge advantage in being able to assess a patient’s treatment plan,” said Mahani. “Periodically, we now send patients back for additional scans so we can see if the treatment is working. The Pet/CT scan will show us if the tumor is shrinking, spreading, or simply losing strength. If we don’t see progress being made, we can alter the plan with a different course of action.”


The procedure is painless and varies in length, depending on the part of the body that is being evaluated. Dr. Patrick Valls, Radiologist with the Cigarroa Clinic, has undergone extensive training in PET/CT scan. He says by combining information about the body’s anatomy and metabolic function, images provide a much more detailed picture of cancerous tissues than previously used imaging systems.

“Before PET/CT scan, patients would undergo several different exams in order to confirm cancer,” Valls explained. “Now, all tests are combined into one effective and efficient exam that is non-invasive and relatively painless. This break-through in medicine allows for better treatment of cancer patients. Before the availability of PET/CT scan, patients with suspicious masses would undergo a biopsy to determine its malignancy. Now, using PET/CT scan, if a mass is detected with increased activity, we are more confident it is an abnormal mass, and can plan appropriately—sometimes without even requiring a biopsy.”

A PET/CT scan is different from an ultrasound, X-ray, MRI, or CT scan. A PET/CT scan allows physicians to distinguish between living and dead tissue or between benign and malignant disorders.

“Alone, each imaging test has particular benefits and limitations,” Dr. Valls said. “However, when combining these two state-of the-art technologies—PET and CT—we can more accurately diagnose, localize, and monitor cancer, as well as heart disease and certain brain disorders, such as Alzheimer’s Disease.”

To learn more about the benefits of PET/CT scan, call your medical oncologist or the Cigarroa Clinic at (956) 725-1228.

Using PET/CT scan imaging, once breast cancer has been diagnosed in a patient, a team of experts create an individualized cancer treatment plan to identify the correct location, extent, and stage of the cancer. Pictured (l-r) Danny Paz, RT (R), CNMT, PET Scan Specialist, Cigarroa Clinic, Mohsen Mahani, M.D., Medical Oncologist and Patrick Valls, M.D., Radiologist, Cigarroa Clinic.