PET-CT scans taken of a patient prior (top) and after treatment; the bright areas indicate cancer.
UPMC CancerCenter is one of the national leaders in utilizing technology to accurately image cancers, and applying that information to plan treatment using the best resources available.
One of the main challenges in planning radiation treatments is that tumors are not solid in the way you might think. Typically when cancer grows, it mixes with healthy tissue, making it very hard to see where the tumor ends.
Doctors usually treat the entire area around the tumor. This approach targets the cancer, but it also may affect healthy tissue that is close to the disease.
Functional imaging is the science of capturing what a tumor is doing, not just its physical location within the body.
Radiation oncologists at UPMC CancerCenter devote much research to the development of various functional imaging modalities, such as:
- fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging)
- MRSI (magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging)
- PET (positron emission tomography)
- SPECT (single-photon emission computed tomography)
What are the benefits of functional imaging?
Functional imaging combines PET imaging with anatomic imaging methods, such as CT or MRI, to get a complete picture of the tumor’s:
The MRI or CT shows the physical shape and position of the tumor, while the PET scan shows the tumor’s activity.
Doctors use this information to plan your treatment.
Functional imaging gives doctors a clear picture of healthy tissue, allowing them to use higher levels of radiation to treat the more active areas of the tumor, while helping to spare healthy tissue and improve patient outcomes.