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Cutting-edge PET-CT scanner first of its kind in US
Helen Adams | MUSC News Center | January 4, 2016

Hilda Rabon (patient)
Helen Adams

Hilda Rabon hopes MUSC's new PET-CT scanner will show that her melanoma has not returned. Tech assistant Bill Mitchell prepares her for the procedure. 

It’s Hilda Rabon’s birthday, and the only present she really wants is a scan that shows she’s cancer free. “I’m a little nervous,” she says in a waiting room at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Rabon has already been treated twice for melanoma, the disease that killed her mother and aunt. She has routine scans to see if it has returned to her body. Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer.

Melissa Dutton, Hilda RabonSarah Pack 
Nuclear medicine technologist Melissa Dutton prepares Hilda Rabon for a PET-CT scan while Dutton's husband Joe Rabon waits. 

But at this visit, something is different. A new “128-slice” PET-CT scanner awaits Rabon, the first of its kind with such a powerful CT scan in the United States. It will reduce the amount of time she has to spend in the device, and, more importantly to Rabon, it may increase the accuracy of the scan. “That sounds great,” she says.

PET stands for positron emission tomography, a scan that that can pick up on cellular changes early. CT is computed tomography, an X-ray exam that captures cross-sectional images, or “slices,” of blood vessels, bone and soft tissue. 

Value of PET-CT Scanner

Combining PET with CT in one device allows doctors to overlay images as they explore possible problems. While this hybrid imaging is not new, the increased capability of the MUSC scanner is. Its 128-slice CT technology is many times more powerful than that of MUSC’s old scanner and the PET-CT scanners still in use in other U.S. hospitals.

Dr. Leonie Gordon 
Dr. Leonie Gordon 

Leonie Gordon, M.D., a professor of radiology at MUSC and director of Nuclear Medicine, says the more slices that doctors have to work with, the more precise they can be. “It’s anatomically clearer. You can see all sorts of things now. We can do very thin slices. Functional and anatomical images are acquired simultaneously and superimposed. We can look at them individually or together.”

The machine’s speed is worth noting too, she says. “Instead of taking about 45 minutes a scan, it will take about 15-20 minutes a scan.” That’s important, because some patients who need scans are very sick. Every minute that can be shaved off their time in the scanner is a minute they can be somewhere more comfortable. The faster speed will also help children who need scans but have a hard time staying still.

Helen Adams 
Technologist Melissa Dutton monitors images of Hilda Rabon captured by MUSC's new PET-CT scanner. 

The 128-slice PET-CT scanner is already being used in some hospitals in Europe, where Siemens, the company that makes the device, is based. MUSC became the first U.S. hospital to get one, Gordon said, because it has the expertise to do research using the new device and recognizes the importance of using the latest technology available for its patients. It cost MUSC about $3 million. That may sound like a lot, but Gordon says it’s not for a cutting-edge piece of medical equipment such as this. In fact, she says, “We got a deal.”

Hilda Rabon's Scan

Back in the waiting room, technologist Melissa Dutton tells Rabon it’s time for her scan. She takes Rabon to a private room and injects her with radioactive glucose that will show where any cancer cells may be once Rabon is in the machine. 

“We’ll scan you all the way from the top of your head to the tip of the toe in about 25 minutes,” Dutton tells her. “You will not have to get up and turn around for another scan of your legs.” That’s a nice change, Rabon says.

Helen Adams 
Hilda Rabon will spend 25 minutes in the new scanner, compared to about 45 in the older model. 

Gordon compares the new PET-CT scan to one-stop shopping. “You see the primary tumor, and because we’re scanning the top of the head down to your feet, we see all the metastases. We can see them in the bone, in the liver, lymph nodes or skin or wherever they happen to be. It’s a bad thing, but the more aggressive the cancer, the more likely we are to see it.”

Rabon hopes there’s nothing to see in her case. After the scan, she goes home to Georgetown to wait for the results. 

The Results

A few days later, she gets the call she was hoping for: There’s no sign of cancer. “It was absolutely marvelous. God is so good. I am so blessed, I cannot tell you,” Rabon says.

She’ll return to MUSC in six months for another check. It’s a never-ending process, but one she says she’s grateful for, and one that has gotten a little easier with the new PET/CT scanner. 

“It was great – I was in it for a shorter time, and it was quieter,” Rabon says. “I can’t even put into words the feeling I have for MUSC. I know early detection is the reason I’m here today.”



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Resources >>

MUSC Health radiology services

MUSC Health melanoma and skin cancer program

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