Whole body PET scans could determine cancer prognosis says study

In collaboration with the Press Association

Whole-body positron emission tomography (PET) scans could help doctors reveal how far breast cancer has spread through the body, says a new study.

Currently, the best method of determining whether tumours have metastatised, or spread, is an examination of the axillary lymph nodes, small oval structures in or near the armpits.

These are first places that breast cancer cells appear when they begin to spread throughout the body.

The technique involves surgery however, and simpler methods would offer benefits, the research group said.

PET scans are able to reveal how active and fast-growing different tissues in the body are, by measuring how quickly they use up glucose.

The study looked at 51 women recently diagnosed with breast cancer. The women all underwent PET scans and by measuring the rate of glucose absorption, the researchers predicted that 32 of the women had metastatic tumours.

The women then had surgery to examine their lymph nodes. Comparing the results of these examinations with the results of the scans suggested that the scans had a 100 per cent positive predictive value, meaning that the technique identified all of the women whose cancer had spread, and gave no false positives.

This finding now needs to be replicated in wider studies, and shown to be cost-effective, before it can be routinely used, however.

The study was conducted by the Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in the US and is published in the Archives of Surgery.

Find out more about PET scanning