St. Luke’s Offers Most Advanced Device for Cancer Management

CTSt. Luke’s provides the evolutionary combination of positron emission tomography (PET) and computed tomography (CT) imaging.

PET/CT is the fastest growing, most accurate diagnostic molecular imaging procedure available in a clinical setting. This combination delivers a precise view of how the body functions metabolically – helping physicians to pinpoint biopsy sites, and significantly enhancing the ability to accurately diagnose, stage, and treat cancer.

Disease changes the biochemistry of the body’s tissues, causing cells to change; for example, cancerous cells grow at a much faster rate. In one continuous, painless, full-body scan that usually takes about 30 minutes, PET captures images of miniscule changes in the body’s metabolism caused by the growth of abnormal cells, while CT images simultaneously allow physicians to pinpoint the exact location, size, and shape of the diseased tissue or tumor.

PET/CT at St. Luke’s is primarily used for cancer management; however, it is also utilized by cardiologists to detect certain types of heart disease, and by neurologists for assessing brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. The advanced capabilities of St. Luke’s new class of PET/CT allow faster scan times and improved image quality – all with a goal of better outcomes for our patients.

St. Luke’s new PET/CT service is available at our Boise and Meridian hospitals, as well as St. Luke’s Mountain States Tumor Institute (MSTI) in Twin Falls.

How PET/CT Works

While a CT scan provides anatomical detail (size and location of the tumor, mass, etc.), a PET scan provides metabolic detail (cellular activity of the tumor, mass, etc.).

CT scanners send x-rays through the body, which are then measured by detectors in the CT scanner. A computer algorithm then processes those measurements to produce pictures of the body’s internal structures. PET images begin with an injection of a solution of glucose (sugar) that has been “tagged” with a radioactive chemical isotope. Metabolically active organs and tumors consume sugar at high rates, and as the isotope tagged to the sugar decays, it emits positrons. These positrons then collide with electrons, giving off gamma ray photons. The PET/CT machine captures the resulting photons, and a computer converts the photons into images. These images show metabolic “hot spots” that often indicate rapidly growing tumors.

The risks of PET/CT are very minimal, and the quantity of injected radiation is so low that it is undetectable after several hours.

Doctors, especially cancer surgeons, were often frustrated by trying to match PET images with CT images to determine the precise location of a tumor in relation to an organ or a patient’s spinal column. They had little choice other than to “eyeball” the two separate images and make an educated guess as to the tumor’s exact location. Then, in 1992, engineer Ron Nutt and physicist David Townsend had a brainstorm: combine a PET and a CT into one remarkable machine.

After working on their combined PET and CT concept for three years, Nutt and Townsend received a grant from the National Cancer Institute, which enabled the completion of a prototype machine. Just six years after the initial idea, the first PET/CT was installed at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in 1998. Nutt and Townsend’s PET/CT provides exceptional image quality and more – their ingenious design allows greater comfort for the patient, with a tunnel diameter of 28 inches, which is far more spacious than typical MRI tunnels.

  • St. Luke's Mountain States Tumor Institute