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Unlike more well known diagnostic imaging tools, like X-rays and CT scans, which can identify changes in anatomy, PET (positron emission tomography) can identify changes in disease processes. This means that PET scanning can detect some diseases even before patients have symptoms, and a disease's progress can be judged much more accurately than with other diagnostic imaging techniques.
When used in conjunction with other imaging techniques, PET can be even more effective. For example, a CT scan could indicate a mass on the lung, and then a PET scan could tell what the mass is and much other information about it with as much accuracy as a biopsy or surgery.
PET scans similarly can detect recurrences and metastases of cancers, like colon cancer spreading to the liver. PET also can provide diagnoses of Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia in their earlier stages when recently discovered therapies are most effective, and cardiac viability can be much more accurately judged. More widely used imaging techniques, for example, might show heart tissue as dead, while a PET scan could reveal that the tissue simply is not getting enough blood and that corrective surgery would be worthwhile.