Positron emission tomography/computed tomography

Semin Nucl Med. 2008 May;38(3):152-66. doi: 10.1053/j.semnuclmed.2008.01.003.


Accurate anatomical localization of functional abnormalities obtained with the use of positron emission tomography (PET) is known to be problematic. Although tracers such as (18)F-fluorodeoxyglucose ((18)F-FDG) visualize certain normal anatomical structures, the spatial resolution is generally inadequate for accurate anatomic localization of pathology. Combining PET with a high-resolution anatomical imaging modality such as computed tomography (CT) can resolve the localization issue as long as the images from the two modalities are accurately coregistered. However, software-based registration techniques have difficulty accounting for differences in patient positioning and involuntary movement of internal organs, often necessitating labor-intensive nonlinear mapping that may not converge to a satisfactory result. Acquiring both CT and PET images in the same scanner obviates the need for software registration and routinely provides accurately aligned images of anatomy and function in a single scan. A CT scanner positioned in line with a PET scanner and with a common patient couch and operating console has provided a practical solution to anatomical and functional image registration. Axial translation of the couch between the 2 modalities enables both CT and PET data to be acquired during a single imaging session. In addition, the CT images can be used to generate essentially noiseless attenuation correction factors for the PET emission data. By minimizing patient movement between the CT and PET scans and accounting for the axial separation of the two modalities, accurately registered anatomical and functional images can be obtained. Since the introduction of the first PET/CT prototype more than 6 years ago, numerous patients with cancer have been scanned on commercial PET/CT devices worldwide. The commercial designs feature multidetector spiral CT and high-performance PET components. Experience has demonstrated an increased level of accuracy and confidence in the interpretation of the combined study as compared with studies acquired separately, particularly in distinguishing pathology from normal, physiologic tracer uptake and precisely localizing abnormal foci. Combined PET/CT scanners represent an important evolution in technology that has helped to bring molecular imaging to the forefront in cancer diagnosis, staging and therapy monitoring.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Protocols
  • Artifacts*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / trends
  • Motion
  • Neoplasm Staging / instrumentation
  • Neoplasm Staging / trends
  • Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging
  • Nuclear Medicine / trends
  • Positron-Emission Tomography / instrumentation
  • Positron-Emission Tomography / trends*
  • Radiopharmaceuticals / pharmacokinetics
  • Subtraction Technique / instrumentation*
  • Technology, Radiologic / instrumentation
  • Technology, Radiologic / trends
  • Tomography Scanners, X-Ray Computed / trends
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / instrumentation
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / trends*


  • Radiopharmaceuticals