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The earlier breast cancer can be detected, and the more information that can be gathered about a personís individual cancer cells, the better the outcome of treatment will be. PEM is a new approach to creating an image of the breast and gathering information about a potential cancer.
PEM stands for positron emission mammography. PEM is related to PET which stands for positron emission tomography. The main difference is that PEM is designed specifically for the breast, whereas PET can be used to create images of many different targets, including the brain or even the whole body.
Both PEM and PET work by creating an image that distinguishes between normal and abnormal tissue. This is done by using radioactive sugar, which accumulates much faster in cancer cells than in normal cells. The scanning camera then takes a snapshot of the molecular activity inside the tissue as represented by the concentration of radioactive sugar. A major advantage of this type of scanning over other approaches is that it not only determines the size and location of a suspicious lump or region, but it also provides information about how active the cells in that region are. In this way, it is easier for a physician to distinguish between cancer and some other abnormal type of tissue.
So far, PEM scanning is not usually used as a general screening tool. You will most likely be asked to take a PEM scan only if your doctor believes you may have breast cancer, or if your breasts are difficult to evaluate by more common methods. For example, there may no evidence you have cancer at all, but, to be sure, if you have dense breasts, breast implants, or fibrocystic breasts, your doctor may want to use PEM scanning.
Another advantage of using PEM scanning is that it can detect very small cancers, down to only one or two millimeters in size. PEM scanning can also be used to help determine the best approach to surgery if cancer is present.
PEM scanning does not replace mammograms, but may be an important additional tool for imaging the breast if cancer is diagnosed or only suspected.
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