PET Scan vs. CT Scan: What’s the Difference?

PET Scan vs. CT Scan: What's the Difference?Your doctor decides to order a test to rule out certain brain disorders in light of your all-too-frequent severe headaches. Which test is he more likely to order, a PET scan or a CT scan? Making sense of current technology can be confusing, given how many different ways radiologists can look inside the human body to detect problems and monitor existing conditions and treatments.

PET Scan

A PET (positron emission tomography) scan is an imaging test that uses radiation to allow a doctor of radiology to check for diseases in your body. A PET scan produces 3-D colored images and involves the use of a special dye containing radioactive tracers. When these tracers are highlighted under a PET scanner, they allow the radiologist to not only see your organs and tissues, but also to see how well they are functioning. A PET scan can measure vital processes such as blood flow, how efficiently your body is using glucose, oxygen use, and more.

PET scans are most commonly used to detect conditions and disease processes including:

  • cancer

  • heart problems

  • brain disorders

  • CNS (central nervous system) problems

  • epilepsy

PET scans are also used to monitor how a condition is progressing or how effective the ongoing treatment of a condition is. Unlike a CT scan, a PET scan shows problems at the cellular level. PET scans are often used along with CT scans, X-rays or MRI scans to obtain not only an image, but also a clear idea of how tissue and organs are functioning in real time.

CT Scan

The “CT” in CT scan stands for computed tomography. It uses special X-ray equipment to help detect a variety of conditions and diseases by producing multiple cross-sectional pictures of the inside of the body. These images can then be reformatted in several planes, even to the point of creating a three-dimensional image of a part of the body. The radiologist can view these images on a computer monitor and transfer them to film, a CD or a DVD. The images produced by a CT scan provide greater detail than the images produced by standard X-rays.

Because these images are produced so quickly, CT scans are often used in emergency situations when a fast diagnosis can literally save a life. They’re often used to look inside the chest, abdomen and pelvis because they provide detailed, cross-sectional views of all types of tissue. In addition to being the test of choice for emergencies, CT scans are also routinely used for diagnosis of:

  • tumors

  • vascular diseases and aneurysms (both pulmonary and aortic)

  • spinal problems

  • skeletal problems (showing even very small bones and surrounding tissue and muscles)

A CT scan is also a helpful tool for:

  • guiding biopsies

  • planning for surgery

  • planning and guiding radiation treatments

  • monitoring a patient’s response to chemotherapy

In some CT scans, a contrast dye is used to enhance visibility of the part of the body being examined.

If you would like to request a PET scan or a CT scan, please contact us at Peninsula Radiology Associates at (757) 989-8830. We have served the Virginia Peninsula for more than 50 years with a well-earned reputation for state-of-the-art equipment, expertise and compassion.

Lung Cancer Screenings

lung cancer screenings

lung cancer screeningsIt is important to know that there are benefits to any screening, including lung cancer screenings. Benefits of lung cancer screening include:

  • Survival: Early diagnosis makes treatment more effective. Perhaps the main benefit to lung cancer screening is that lung cancer is caught early is more likely to be treatable and cured.

  • Research advances: Higher risk patients who are screened early may be offered new advancements in treatment.

The Screening Test

Lung cancer screening is performed using an imaging machine to produce a low-dose spiral (or helical) CT (Computed Tomography) scan of the chest. This scan uses a series of x-rays to show the shape, size and location of anything abnormal in the chest that might signal the need for follow up. CT scans are very sensitive and can show both cancerous and noncancerous areas.

During a CT scan, you will lie very still on a table, which is slowly moves through the CT scanner. An x-ray machine rotates around you and takes pictures from many angles. A computer then combines the pictures into a very detailed image. There are no medications or injections needed and there is no need to stop eating or drinking before the exam. You may be asked to hold your breath for several seconds. That way, your lungs will not move during the scan and the images will be clear.

The Results

The results from your lung cancer scan will be sent to the doctor who referred you for screening. Your doctor will review the results of the scan and will discuss them with you. Because a spiral CT scan is so detailed, it is possible that something will show up on the exam that is not cancer. Your doctor will discuss the best way to follow up on any test result.

If you have any questions or concern about lung cancer screenings, please contact Peninsula Radiology Associates at one of our locations.

Interventional Oncology: The Facts

interventional oncology

interventional oncology

Peninsula Radiology Associates has a patient-focused and caring team of providers at its Center for Interventional Oncology, trained to give you the very best care. You may wonder, what is interventional oncology? What kinds of cancer does it treat? Why should I consider getting screened if I have no symptoms? Read on to get the facts about interventional oncology.

What is interventional oncology?

Interventional oncology is a specialized branch of medicine enabling the diagnosis and treatment of certain cancers by using image-guided procedures. It utilizes imaging techniques, including X-ray, ultrasound, CT and MRI scans. Despite the term “interventional,” interventional oncology procedures are actually minimally invasive and obviate the need for more invasive surgical procedures.

What types of cancer is interventional oncology used for?

Interventional oncology has many applications. Doctors may use interventional oncology to diagnose and treat cancers of the liver, lung, kidney, bone, breast, ovaries, prostate and pancreas.

Why is early detection so important?

Early detection of cancer is important because it saves lives. The sooner cancer is found, a patient’s chances of survival increase dramatically. Interventional oncology plays a vital role in early detection. Even if a patient is not experiencing symptoms, if he or she is at risk for certain cancers, the treating physician may recommend interventional oncology tests.

Doctors throughout the Peninsula rely on us, partnering with the Riverside Health System, to provide them with extremely accurate test results — and our patients love our patient-centered philosophy. Please contact us at (757) 989-8830 to set up an appointment at Peninsula Radiology Associates at one of our seven locations.

Brain Imaging Techniques: How Youth Sports-Related Concussions Are Evaluated

brain imaging

brain imagingOur team at Peninsula Radiology Associates is pleased to present this article on concussions, particularly for its timeliness. As you know, scientific findings show that too many concussions sustained repeatedly from falls or collisions (as in pro football) may result later in brain damage, confusion, depression, aggression and early dementia.

If you have a child, middle-school or high-school-aged family member playing sports, and you suspect your loved one has sustained a concussion, it’s important to go to your family doctor or urgent care center immediately. Your doctor will most likely emphasize the importance of brain imaging to his diagnosis and treatment.

In the event of a mild concussion, sometimes referred to as mTBI or mild Traumatic Brain Injury, a physician or emergency room personnel will evaluate your loved one’s symptoms and decide whether a CT scan or MRI for brain imaging will be needed. You will want to get your child’s brain imaged as soon as possible, since the effects of sport-related concussions (SRCs) on the developing brains of pre-high-school-aged athletes are not well understood.

Immediately after injury

If a patient is brought in soon after an injury occurs, a CT scan will likely be chosen to rule out a more serious concussion. CT scans can show acute injuries like hematoma (bleeding in or around the brain), edema (swelling of the brain) or a skull fracture. When a concussion is mild, the CT scan often comes back as normal. If a patient is not feeling well, a CT scan is easier and faster to perform as well as less costly for parents.

Two days after injury

If the concussion happened more than 48 hours ago, an MRI is a more likely choice. An MRI will show details that would not show up in a CT scan. This type of scan is better at showing even tiny injuries to the brain, such as small contusions (bruises), micro-hemorrhages (small areas of bleeding) or signs of microscopic damage to nerve fibers. These small changes in the brain are what doctors want to check for when a patient has not recovered as quickly as expected or has worsening symptoms.

An older concussion

If an injury occurred a long time ago, physicians use either CT or MRI to look for brain atrophy, when brain tissue is injured or dead and the surrounding tissue begins to absorb it. This changes the physical structure of the brain over time.

Most patients with a mild concussion will fully recover in a short amount of time. When parents or physicians see that a child has continuing headaches, poor balance, difficulty in thinking or other symptoms that don’t go away, another brain imaging scan, either CT or MRI, will be ordered. If a scan shows a structural change in the patient’s brain, such as atrophy, the physician will know more about how to proceed and help the patient recover.

Every young athlete’s SRC is different, and every concussion will result in a range of symptoms. If you or a loved one needs an appointment for brain imaging at one of our seven convenient Peninsula Radiology locations, please call (757) 989-8830 to schedule. 

What Is Breast-Specific Gamma Imaging?

Nuclear Medicine breast specific gammaIf you’ve recently had a mammogram that detected a growth or was inconclusive, you’ve probably already heard about breast-specific gamma imaging (BSGI); or molecular breast imaging (MBI), as it’s sometimes called. Our nuclear medicine and radiology experts at Peninsula Radiology Associates, while acknowledging the lifesaving value of mammography, want to familiarize you with the unique diagnostic value of BSGI testing, as well.
Why You May Need Breast-Specific Gamma Imaging After Your Mammogram

Breast-specific gamma imaging allows doctors a closer, clearer look when a mammogram has detected cancer or its findings are inconclusive (which sometimes happens when a woman’s breast tissue is especially dense). The BSGI test is used to detect:

  • Additional lesions missed by a physical exam and mammography.
  • An abnormality or a mass requiring biopsy.
  • Cancers which are not always detectable by mammography.

Breast-specific gamma imaging, known in nuclear medicine as Scintimammography, uses a small amount of radioactive material which enables doctors to pinpoint molecular activity within the breast, improving the chances of both identifying disease in its earliest stages as well as assessing a patient’s responses to treatment that is already underway.
What Does the BSGI Procedure Involve?

BSGI is non-invasive and involves being injected with a radiotracer (a drug that emits radioactivity). This radiotracer accumulates in different ways in various types of tissue. The doctor uses a device known as a gamma camera to detect the gamma rays given off by the radiotracer as it accumulates in the breast tissue. This lets the doctor know if cancer might be present and whether a biopsy or other type of follow up procedure is needed.

The test itself doesn’t actually feel much different from a mammogram, and in fact the two machines look somewhat similar. You’ll wear a hospital gown for the test, just as you would for a mammogram. The only differences are the injection of the radiotracer and the use of a gamma camera against the compressed breast.

When You Receive Your BSGI Results

It’s important to know that even if a mass within your breast is confirmed by a BSGI test, and a biopsy is ordered, this doesn’t necessarily confirm a cancer diagnosis. Both malignant and benign tumors appear the same way. The BSGI only confirms the presence or lack of a mass in the breast; a biopsy reveals precancerous or cancerous cells.
If your doctor advises you that you should have a BSGI, Peninsula Radiology Associates, serving five Hampton Roads locations, is easy to find and known for its compassionate, experienced doctors and technicians. Please contact us at (757) 989-8830 to schedule an appointment at the most convenient location for you or your loved one or to learn more about our many services.

What is Nuclear Medicine and How is It Used?

nuclear medicine radiologist Newport News VANuclear medicine is a global term used to describe a form of medical imaging that relies on the use of trace amounts of radioactive materials to aid in the imaging of the human body.

What Is a Radiotracer?

The amount of radioactive materials, commonly referred to as a ‘radiotracer’, is extremely small and should pose no medical risk or radiation exposure risk to the patient.

The purpose of the radiotracer is to allow medical imaging systems to easily image certain types of tissue. Radiotracers emit miniscule amounts of gamma radiation, which is easily detected by special medical imaging equipment. Cameras and computers can use the radiation to create an accurate image of the area in which the radiotracer is concentrated.

Advantages of Nuclear Medicine as a Real-Time Diagnostic Tool

Nuclear medicine has a number of advantages over other imaging techniques. For instance, since the material containing the radiotracer can be ingested, it can allow for a detailed imaging study of the gastrointestinal or renal system as the material is processed by the body. For this reason, nuclear medicine is commonly used as a diagnostic tool for gastrointestinal disorders and renal function studies.

Radiotracers can be introduced to the patient’s body in several ways. The three most common ways are: injected, inhaled as a gas or swallowed.The actual trace material only makes up a very small amount of the material that is introduced into the patient’s body. The majority of the material swallowed, injected or inhaled is simply used to transport the material into the body.

Once the patient has taken the radiotracer into his body, the next step is the actual imaging process. In most cases, this process, involving a special camera, is a relatively quick, simple process.

No Risk of Long-Term Radiation

Afterwards, a patient’s body naturally expels the radiotracers. Nuclear medicine used in medical imaging carries no risk of long-term radiation exposure.

Images obtained through this process may be later combined or studied side-by-side with images obtained through other imaging techniques, such as MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).

Nuclear medicine is a safe, powerful diagnostic tool your doctor can use to diagnose and treat many common conditions that would not be as easily treatable — or detectable — without the use of nuclear medicine.

Please contact us if you have any questions or concerns regarding nuclear medicine. To schedule an appointment or procedure at one of our seven Peninsula Radiology locations, call (757) 989-8830.

The History of MRI: From Nikola Tesla to Modern Miracle

MRI Newport News, VAIf you are a child of the 1980s or subsequent decades, it probably seems to you that doctors have been ordering MRIs since the beginning of time. It’s hard to imagine a period when this diagnostic option didn’t exist for physicians and patients.

At Peninsula Radiology Associates, we thought it would be interesting to give you a quick rundown on how this means of spotting diseases of the central nervous system and soft-tissue injuries in muscles and ligaments came to be.

Back in 1882, the famous and versatile inventor Nikola Tesla made a groundbreaking discovery in physics in Budapest, known as the Rotating Magnetic Field. In the 1950s, Herman Carr created a one-dimensional Magnetic Resonance image. In 1956, the “Tesla Unit” was proclaimed in Munich, Germany, measuring the strength of a magnetic field. Stronger magnetic fields correlate with a stronger number of radio signals derived from the human body’s atoms, resulting in higher-quality MRI images.

A scientist at New York’s Downstate Medical Center named Raymond Damadian discovered that the hydrogen signal in cancerous tissue differed from that of healthy tissue, as tumors contain more water. As we learn in chemistry, more water contains more hydrogen atoms. Damadian noted that when the so-called nuclear magnetic resonance was switched off, radio waves emitted from cancerous tissue lingered longer than those of radio waves from healthy tissue.

In 1973, close on Damadian’s heels, chemist Paul Lauterbur produced the first Nuclear Magnetic Resonance image, of a test tube! In 2003, Lauterbur would receive a Nobel Prize for affording physicians the capability of looking inside the human body without using harmful radiation.

But Damadian, too, was onto something and by July 3, 1977, assisted by two post-doctoral students, he hand-built the first Magnetic Resonance scanner, which he proudly named the “Indomitable.” In 1977, he and his students performed the first MRI scan of a healthy human body; and in 1978 the team had taken the first MRI of a human body affected by cancer.

The first MRI instruments became available in the early 1980s, when, according to an magnetic-resonance imaging journal, “there were 12 [MRI] machines, and everybody working with Magnetic Resonance imaging knew each other.” As of 2016, 36,000 MRI scanners existed worldwide, with approximately 11,500 of the machines in the United States.

In 1987, real progress on the capacities of Magnetic Resonance imaging continued: real-time MR imaging of the heart was developed. By 1994, functional MRI had been discovered to provide real-time information on brain activity and function and by 2000 was widely used to guide neurosurgeons.

While in the1990s MRI had been reserved mainly for neuroimaging and musculoskeletal imaging, by the millennium, Cardiac MRI, Body MRI, fetal imaging and functional MRI had been further refined and were performed routinely at imaging centers.

Peninsula Radiology Associates hopes you have enjoyed this glimpse into the discovery and development of a technology we are proud to use daily. Should your physician require an MRI scan or another radiological service, please contact us at (757) 989-8830. Our expert, caring radiology teams look forward to assisting you at one of our 7 locations on the Peninsula!

Happy Holidays From Peninsula Radiation Associates!

This holiday season, we are looking back with appreciation for your trust in our practice and looking forward to moving into the New Year together.

Sincerely, Peninsula Radiation Associates

Happy Holidays

What is Nuclear Medicine and How is it Used?

Nuclear MedicineAt Peninsula Radiology Associates, one of our core beliefs is that our patients deserve to know in detail about any radiologic procedures or scans they or their loved ones plan to have at one of our facilities. This month, we focus on exactly what “nuclear medicine” is and how it is used by doctors to diagnose and treat patients.

Nuclear medicine is a medical specialty which uses radioactive “tracers,” also known as radiopharmaceuticals, to evaluate the status of bodily functions and to diagnose and treat disease. It is safe and painless.

The term “radiopharmaceutical” refers to the combination of medicine (a pharmaceutical) attached to a small quantity of radioactive material (a radioisotope) introduced into your body in order to facilitate scanning. Which radiopharmaceutical will be used depends upon your procedure, but all are FDA-approved.

Radiopharmaceuticals can be injected into a vein, inhaled as a gas or swallowed. The radiotracer gives off gamma radiation as it decays, allowing a gamma camera to scan the radiation area and create a moving image which details, for example, your gastrointestinal system as it processes the radiopharmaceutical through your body. Your particular radiopharmaceutical is designed to go to a specific place in your body where disease or an abnormality may be suspected.

Gamma cameras, placed a few inches from your body, do not transmit any radiation to patients, unlike other imaging devices such at computed tomography (CT) scanners and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). They are silent, not rattling noisily as some scanning machines do. Nuclear medicine imaging carries no risk of long-term radiation exposure.

Nuclear medicine procedures often can identify abnormalities quite early in the progression of a disease. This early detection allows a disease to be treated sooner rather than later, when a more successful prognosis is likely. Radiologists can make diagnoses based on the way patients’ bodies are known to handle substances in the “health” state versus the “disease” state.

Nuclear medicine can be used for many diagnostic functions, including:

  • Identifying abnormal lesions deep within the body without exploratory surgery.
  • Determining whether or not certain organs are functioning normally: whether your heart is adequately pumping blood; whether your brain is receiving an adequate blood supply; and whether your brain cells are functioning normally.
  • Evaluating your kidneys for normal function, and discerning whether your stomach is emptying properly.
  • Determining your blood volume, lung function, vitamin absorption and/or bone density.
  • Identifying the sites of seizures.
  • Finding cancers, determining how they respond to treatment and determining whether infected bones will heal.

Please do not hesitate to contact us at Peninsula Radiology Associates if you have any questions or concerns regarding your nuclear medicine procedure. To schedule an appointment with us at any of our seven convenient locations, please call (757) 989-8830. Don’t worry; at PRA, you are always in good hands!

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Mammography Can Save Your Life

Breast Cancer Awareness Newport News VAOctober is Breast Cancer Awareness Month! This annual campaign was created to increase awareness of the disease. Most people are aware of breast cancer, but often forget to take the actions necessary to detect the disease in its early stages and encourage others to do the same.


When it comes to women’s health, one of the upmost concerns is breast health. Mammography is the use of low-dose x-ray imaging to examine breast tissue. This is an invaluable screening tool that detects many breast tumors early so they can be treated effectively.

The American Cancer Society recommends that women have their first mammogram by age 40 and continue with annual mammograms thereafter. If you know breast cancer runs in your family, your primary care doctor may advise you to schedule your first mammogram before age 40.

How Does Mammography Save Lives?

Yearly mammograms are critical for early detection of disease as radiologists compare your mammograms from year to year to identify any changes.

  • mammography in Newport News VAAccording to the American College of Radiology, mammography has reduced breast cancer mortality rates by one third since 1990.
  • Mammograms can detect changes in breast tissue two years before you would experience symptoms.
  • Most women diagnosed with breast cancer have no known family history of the disease. Mammography provides women the opportunity to manage their health and mitigate a frightening health crisis.
  • Earlier detection means a much better chance of surviving breast cancer.

Does Mammography Hurt?

While mammograms can be briefly uncomfortable, they are quick and minimally invasive. Mammography technicians are trained to put you at ease, respect your privacy and get you in and out efficiently. The radiologist will review your results quickly so you will have your results as soon as possible.

If you have further questions about mammography or you would like to schedule a mammogram online call, Peninsula Radiology Associates today (757) 594-2911. We encourage all women to take charge of their health by getting a yearly mammogram.