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PET CT scan

An advanced molecular imaging technique that can assess how your body is functioning

Doctors looking at images on screens from a PET CT scan
A positron emission tomography (PET) scan is a type of imaging that can not only look inside your body but also assesses its function. A PET scanner produces detailed images of the inside of your body, which are represented in 3D when combined with a Computed Tomography (CT) scan. It works by detecting positron emission from body tissues on collision of molecules with photons detected by a highly specialised scanner.

At Circle Health Group, our PET CT scanning is led by experienced consultants and specially trained radiologists, supported by multidisciplinary teams of healthcare professionals. We offer fast access to molecular imaging should you need it, with consultant-led treatment from start to finish and a patient-first approach to care that puts your needs front and centre.

If you think private PET CT scanning could be the right choice for you, call us today and one of our dedicated advisors will help you take the next steps.

PET scanners work by tracking radiation as it is taken up and released by cells. Before you have a PET CT scan, you will be injected with a small dose of something called a radiotracer, which is a mildly radioactive medicine.

For most PET CT scans we use a drug that is quite similar to glucose, so your body's cells metabolise it in the same way. The way that this radioactive tracer behaves once inside your body can tell us how your body is functioning and identify areas that are working abnormally. For example, cancerous cells react differently to the drug than normal cells, and the scan may detect overactivity which indicates tumours. Specific tumours such as prostate cancer and neuroendocrine tumours may be detected using more tumour-specific radionuclide agents.

The PET scanner detects the radiation and analyses your cellular function. At the same time, the CT scan takes 3D images of your tissues and organs.

When combined, the results of the PET CT scan give your radiologist an accurate and detailed picture of any changes in the activity of your cells and shows them exactly where these changes are happening.

PET CT scanning is most commonly used in oncology, which is the area of medicine concerned with cancer treatment. PET CT scanning is typically used to:

  • Diagnose cancer
  • Identify what stage the cancer is at
  • Determine whether a lump is cancerous or not
  • Identify whether cancer has spread
  • Help us decide on the best treatment for your cancer
  • Show how well your cancer is responding to treatment
  • Show the difference between active cancer tissue and treated/destroyed cancer cells

PET CT scans can also be used to diagnose certain inflammatory conditions, as well as dementia and cardiovascular disease.

PET CT scanners are usually only available at large hospitals that specialise in cancer treatment. Often you will need to travel to a different hospital than usual to have one.

At Circle Health Group, we are one of very few private providers to offer PET CT scanning at one of our own sites, at Mount Alvernia Hospital in Guildford, Surrey.

The PET scanner is a joint venture with the Surrey, Hampshire & Sussex radiologist chambers (The Imaging Clinic).

A PET CT scan is not necessary for everyone, but in certain instances it is considered the gold standard for diagnosing and understanding cancer.

However, because PET scanners are highly specialised and require very specific radiotracers in order to work, they are not widely available. This means many people face a long wait to get access to PET CT scanning.

At Mount Alvernia PET CT, we don't have a waiting list. If you need a PET CT scan, you can book one without delay. You can get rapid access to PET CT scanning whether you are a self-paying patient or using your private health insurance.

We also see patients who are having their treatment with the NHS but want to pay for the PET CT scan as a one-off to avoid delay.

The cost of your PET CT scan can vary depending on your reasons for having the scan, which affects the logistics of your procedure. For example, PET CT scans are typically performed across your whole body for cancer and inflammatory conditions, but are confined to the brain for dementia and specific cerebral imaging such as brain cancer.

We offer PET CT scanning starting from £1,660.*

This cost is for a scan using the agent FDG, which is the most common type of scan we perform. This is a fully inclusive cost, which covers the scan and the report as well as sending images electronically to a chosen consultant facility.

Specialised tumour-specific scanning such as prostatic cancer to identify local disease and distant metastases requires a more expensive and poorly available agent (PSMA) and the cost of this type of scan starts at £3,100.*

These are the prices for self-funding patients. Most self-funding patients will be referred by a specialist, however if you wish to self-refer, we can arrange for a short discussion to ensure that PET CT imaging is appropriate.

You can also pay for your PET CT scan using your private health insurance. We work with all major providers in the UK.

*This is a guide price for patients wishing to pay for their own scan. Prices vary depending on the individual case. The exact cost of your treatment will be confirmed at the time of booking.

Your appointment letter should tell you everything you need to know about preparing for a PET CT scan. If you have any questions don't hesitate to call the molecular imaging department or your consultant for advice.

You might be asked to wear loose, comfortable clothes, avoiding metallic objects however usually we will ask you to change into a hospital gown before you have the scan as a small dose of radioactivity is being administered.

Normally you can't eat anything for six hours before the scan. Typically you can drink as much water as you like, though we ask you to avoid milk and sugary drinks as they can interfere with the test results.

Unless we tell you otherwise, you can carry on taking any medications you are on.

PET CT scans are mainly performed on an outpatient basis, which means that you won't need to stay overnight in hospital.

We may offer you a sedative to relax the muscles in your neck and shoulders to help us get clear pictures on the scan, but the scanner is wide open and not claustrophobic like most MRI scanners
We'll ask you to lie down once you're ready. Then, we will gently insert a small needle into your hand or arm (called a cannula). The radiotracer is injected into a vein through this cannula. You need to stay lying down for at least an hour while your body absorbs the drug.

Once we are happy the drug has been absorbed, we'll ask you to go to the toilet to empty your bladder, then you'll be taken to the scanning room. You lie on your back on the scanning bed, which then moves through the scanner.

Depending on which parts of your body need to be scanned, the procedure takes between 30 minutes and one hour. You will need to stay as still as possible throughout. You will be on your own in the room, but the scanning radiographer or technologist will be nearby and observing you throughout, and you can speak to them at any time on the intercom.

Unlike MRI, a PET CT scanner is not particularly noisy, though there will be some constant background noise. Rarely people find the experience a bit claustrophobic. If you tend to feel this way in enclosed spaces, do let us know ahead of time. We'll do everything we can to make you comfortable and relaxed, which might include offering a mild sedative in advance (but this is usually unnecessary).

How soon will I receive my results?

We aim to get the results of your PET CT scan back to you or to your doctor within 24 hours.

What are the potential risks and complications of having a PET CT scan?

As with any nuclear medicine, there is a very small risk from the radiation that there could be tissue damage in years ahead. This is very rare and the PET CT scan is considered a very safe and routine procedure.

The radiotracer rapidly loses its radioactivity and you will expel it from your body within a few hours. You can drink water to try and speed this up.

You might be advised to stay away from pregnant women and young children for a few hours after your scan.

There is also a very small chance of an allergic reaction to the contrast dye we use for the CT scan, but we can manage this.

If you have been told you need a PET CT scan, referrals can be sent by a consultant directly to [email protected]. Alternatively, the Molecular Imaging suite can be contacted directly for further referral advice on 01483 442696.

If you are not sure whether you need a PET CT scan, or perhaps just want to find out more about our various treatment options, our advisors can help you with that too.

If you have a cancer diagnosis and would like to go private with us, book an initial consultation with one of our experienced consultant oncologists.

When you choose to go private with Circle Health Group, you can expect:

  • Flexible appointment times and locations to fit your routine
  • The freedom to choose which hospital and consultant suit your needs
  • Personalised, consultant-led treatment plans tailored to your individual needs
  • Comfortable and safe private facilities maintained by expert multidisciplinary teams
  • Private ensuite rooms as standards and delicious healthy meals
  • Affordable, fixed-price packages with aftercare included
  • Flexible payment options to help you spread the cost of your care

Content reviewed by consultant radiologist Dr Anthony Lopez in April 2023. Next review due April 2026.

  1. PET CT Scanning, Mount Alvernia PET CT
  2. PET scan, NHS
  3. PET CT scan, Cancer Research UK

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