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October 1, 2001

Health Center Now Offering PET Scans

The Health Center has begun to offer a powerful new imaging test, positron emission tomography or PET, joining a small number of hospitals in the state and around the country authorized to provide the new technology.

PET produces powerful images of the human body. It shows chemical and metabolic changes that can identify functional changes in tissue. Because disease often triggers functional changes before it creates structural changes, PET can identify and diagnose certain diseases, like cancer, earlier than other kinds of imaging and without the need for surgical biopsies.

A PET scan is a painless test that involves injecting the patient with simple sugars or glucose labeled with signal-emitting tracers. A scanner then records the signals emitted by the tracers as they go through the human body and collect in organs. A computer turns the signals into actual images. Because the tracers tend to accumulate in higher concentration in abnormal cells, the PET scanner can readily detect them.

The scan not only detects tumors that cannot be found by other radiological methods, it can help physicians determine where a tumor began, whether it has spread and the effectiveness of radiation and chemotherapy. It is also a good tool for determining the extent of heart disease and for the early detection of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Huntington's, and other neurological disorders.

To obtain the new $2 million scanner, the Health Center joined four other hospitals in filing a certificate of need with the state Office of Health Care Access, which must approve the acquisition of imaging equipment that costs more than $400,000. The state agency approved the certificate of need in August.

Housed in a big tractor-trailer, the PET scanner will be shared by John Dempsey, Hartford, Middlesex, Manchester, and Windham hospitals. Shared use helps reduce the cost of the equipment to each hospital and ultimately to the patients.

Kristina Goodnough

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