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PET/CT Scans for Cancer Detection

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PET/CT Scans for Cancer Detection

PET/CT Scans for Cancer Detection

Campbell County Health’s Heptner Cancer Center has been providing Positron Emission Tomography (PET), combined with CT, or PET/CT scanning for patients in Northeast Wyoming since 2019.  A PET scan is an imaging test that can help reveal the metabolic or biochemical function of your tissues and organs. The scan uses a special dye containing radioactive tracers. These tracers are injected into a vein in your arm before undergoing the scan. The tracer gives off radiation, which the PET scan machine picks up on. The images you get show where in your body the tracer goes. If it builds up in certain areas, that could be a sign of disease. The tracer will collect in areas of higher chemical activity, which is helpful because certain tissues of the body, and certain diseases, have a higher level of chemical activity. These areas of disease will show up as bright spots on the PET scan. PET scans must be interpreted carefully because some noncancerous conditions can look like cancer, and some cancers do not appear on PET scans.

The most common use of PET is in the detection of cancer and the evaluation of cancer treatment, such as:

  • Detecting cancer

  • Revealing whether your cancer has spread

  • Checking whether a cancer treatment is working

  • Finding a cancer recurrence

The Heptner Cancer Center uses a PET/CT hybrid scanner, which combines the two tools into a single scan. This allows the doctor to do a CT scan in combination with a PET scan all at once. The CT component is used to plan radiation therapy treatments, and also acts as a back-up for the other CT scanner in the hospital’s Radiology department.

“We’ve performed more than 300 scans since this equipment was purchased and installed,” said Leigh Johnson, Director of the Heptner Cancer Center. “We’re one of the few places in the state with a permanent PET scan installed onsite. Many others have mobile units that travel around to each location.”

Because the PET/CT scanner is part of the Heptner Cancer Center, patients are already familiar with this part of the hospital, and know where to park and enter the building. They know the people that are taking care of them too, since patients met most of them during cancer treatment.

“The fact that they don't interact with strangers can be incredibly comforting to our patients,” said Leigh.

The staff at the Heptner Cancer Center are constantly looking for ways to make the patient’s experience better. Part of the PET/CT process is a waiting period of about an hour after the injection of the chemical tracer before the scan can begin. The injection room was painted with special black light paint by a local artist. What looks like beautiful landscapes hanging on the walls turn into a magical scene of Northern Lights under the black light.

“It gives the patients something unique to look at while they wait,” said Leigh. “Anything we can do to make patients more comfortable is worth it.”

PET/CT was a joint fundraising project with the Northeast Wyoming Community Health Foundation (formerly the Campbell County Healthcare Foundation) and CCH, both contributing nearly $800,000 toward the cost of the equipment. CCH also funded some structural modifications needed to house the PET/CT equipment.


Learn more about the Heptner Cancer Center at

  • Category: Campbell County Memorial Hospital, Cancer Treatment, Radiology, Health News