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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Powerful, New Diagnostic Tool Available for Cancer Patients at Houston VA

November 19, 2007

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Nuclear Medicine Chief Technologist Carey Nash, CNMT, ARRT prepares a veteran for a diagnostic scan using the new PET/CT at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center. PHOTO BY: Bobbi Gruner, MEDVAMC Public Affairs Officer


HOUSTON – Beginning next week, the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC) will offer its patients a powerful new diagnostic imaging system known as PET/CT. This hybrid technology combines the strengths of two well-established imaging modalities in one imaging session to more accurately diagnose and locate cancers while increasing patient comfort.

Positron emission tomography (PET) monitors the biochemical functioning of cells by detecting how they process certain compounds, such as glucose (sugar). Cancer cells metabolize glucose at a much higher level than normal tissues. By detecting increased glucose use with a high degree of sensitivity, PET identifies cancerous cells, even at an early stage when other modalities may miss them. Computed tomography (CT) yields a detailed picture of the body’s anatomical structures by taking cross-sectional images or X-ray slices of the body.

"With PET/CT, health care professionals at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center can make more accurate diagnoses, develop more targeted treatment plans, and do better, less-invasive treatment monitoring, which should result in improved patient outcomes," said Meena Vij, M.D., Diagnostic and Therapeutic Care Line executive. "It is particularly useful in cancers of the head and neck, lung, colon, esophagus, thyroid, and breast, along with lymphoma and melanoma."

Noninvasive and painless, the combined PET/CT machine allows health care professionals to rapidly perform both scans in one session. This means physicians can precisely overlay the metabolic data of the PET scan and the detailed anatomic data of the CT scan to pinpoint the location and stage of tumors. Along with providing better imaging data, this new technology notably increases patient comfort and convenience by reducing the number of scanning sessions a patient must undergo.

"The availability of the PET/CT represents a vast improvement in the way we stage and treat cancer," said Peeyush Bhargava, M.D., Nuclear Medicine Section chief. "This is very exciting technology that puts the DeBakey VA at the cutting edge of diagnostic imaging."

Clinical research has shown that in comparison to a PET scan alone, PET/CT technology provides new information that can alter a patient’s treatment plan to better target the cancer in approximately one-third of the cases. MEDVAMC physicians will use the scanner not only to detect and stage cancers but also to monitor patients’ response to treatment. PET/CT can significantly reduce the number of invasive biopsies normally done for this purpose.

While PET/CT is primarily used in cancer treatment, it also has applications in cardiology and brain imaging, and it will help MEDVAMC physicians better understand the workings of heart disease and such neurological disorders as Alzheimer’s disease and epilepsy.

"The Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center is proud to be known for providing our patients with the latest technology," said Thomas B. Horvath, M.D., Chief of Staff. "The PET/CT is an exciting innovation which has the power to save lives by enabling our health care staff to make earlier and more accurate diagnoses. We are very pleased to offer this new technology to our veterans."

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