Pet Scan

PET (Positron emission tomography) scan, is a type of scan that shows areas of cancer in the body.

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What is a PET scan?

PET scans are performed in the nuclear medicine department of a hospital. They are usually done as an outpatient which means you do not need to stay overnight. A small injection of radioactive material is given, and this is no more painful than any other injection. A scan is given whilst lying on a bed.

The scan itself is not painful but lying still can be difficult for some people but the scanning bed has special rests for arms and legs, and this helps with lying still. There will be plenty of staff in the department who are there to help and it is ok to let them know if you are feeling uncomfortable during the scan. The scan takes around 30 – 60 minutes but you may be in the department for around 2 hours in total.

Preparing for a PET scan?

Information will be given on how to prepare for the scan and the instructions may be different for each individual. This will depend on which area of the body is to be scanned and any medical conditions.

Before the scan staff at the department should be advised of the following:

  • Possibility of being pregnant
  • Breastfeeding
  • Being worried about being in a closed space
  • If you have diabetes- you will be given instructions on when to take any diabetes medication


Most people are able to take usual medications before the scan but this should be checked with the doctor. You should check this with your doctor.

You will not be able to eat anything for a period prior to the scan. Plain water may be allowed and the staff at the nuclear medicine department will advise when to stop eating and drinking.
After you have received the radiotracer, you will need to sit or lie down and relax for around an hour prior to having the scan.

After the PET scan

In most cases you can go home after a scan and return to normal activities, but the results of the scan will take some time to come back. You will usually receive them at the next appointment with the specialist and it may be advised to avoid contact with babies and pregnant women for a few hours. The staff at the nuclear medicine department will tell you if this is necessary.


A PET scan is considered to be a safe procedure. It exposes you to around the same amount of radiation that you would receive from the general environment over about three years.

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