A Reason to be Thankful: Read Kevin's Story
Modern technology can be both a blessing and a curse.
Just ask Kevin Kinckle of Allentown. PET/CT, a state-of-the-art nuclear imaging tool introduced little more than a decade ago, confirmed a devastating diagnosis of stage IV cancer in his right tonsil.
Then, after radiation and chemotherapy, the same technology confirmed Kevin’s cancer was gone.
Positron Emission Tomography (PET) and Computerized Tomography (CT), or PET/CT, is highly effective at detecting cancer, brain disorders, heart conditions and other diseases. In Kevin’s case, PET/CT allowed Michael McKenna, MD, board certified radiation oncologist, to pinpoint the location of Kevin’s cancer.
“I trust PET/CT over any other scan for determining where radiation is needed. It’s the best technology for targeting tumor(s),” says Dr. McKenna.
PET/CT brings together two of the most precise diagnostic technologies into one integrated image. “PET scans show the higher metabolism of tumor cells, while CT scan provides a detailed picture of the body's internal anatomy. The PET/CT scan combines both images,” says Steve Wozniak, CNMT, RT(N), PET, nuclear medicine supervisor.
Ten years ago PET/CT was not widely available, in some cases only used experimentally. “It was immediately recognized as a major breakthrough in oncological imaging, but it took time for referring physicians and insurance companies to buy in,” says Wozniak, who, in 2000, was one of the first of three New Jersey PET technologists.
Before PET/CT became as widely used as it is today, available technologies — such as CT scans, bone scans, MRI scans or x-ray — were less able to discriminate between areas affected by cancer and normal tissue. These less-precise scans meant patients were treated with larger volumes of radiation over a greater area, and affected tissue still might have been missed.
“Treatment based on these scans led to increased risk of failure and side effects,” according to Dr. McKenna.
Today, PET/CT is still offered with only limited availability in many areas. At RWJ Hamilton, appointments are available five days a week. “Our PET/CT services are managed by a board certified PET technologist and our chief nuclear radiologist is board certified in nuclear medicine. We are fully accredited by the Intersocietal Accreditation Commission (IAC) — which speaks to our quality as only three PET labs in New Jersey hold this accreditation,” adds Steve.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went for my first PET/CT. I can get claustrophobic, so thankfully it wasn’t like an MRI,” says Kevin. With PET/CT, the patient is asked to lie down and their body is passed through an arc where head, torso, legs and feet are not enclosed. The scan is painless and takes about 30 minutes or less.
Patients like Kevin typically go for PET/CT scans at least twice. The first scan provides the oncologist enough information to “stage” the cancer, or assign a number between one and four to describe the cancer based on the tumor and whether or not cancer has spread. Kevin’s was a stage IV;the scan indicated his cancer had spread to multiple lymph nodes in his neck. However, Dr. McKenna assured him that a cure was still possible despite this advanced stage.
“The PET/CT is definitive for a patient. When you get diagnosed with cancer it’s difficult to really comprehend. After I had the PET/CT, my doctor could give me a very clear idea of what we were dealing with,” says Kevin.
The second scan is performed months later to gauge the cancer’s response to treatment.
For Kevin, the second PET/CT scan provided the evidence and relief that many patients with cancer hope for — a complete response to the radiation and chemotherapy treatments he received at The Cancer Institute of New Jersey Hamilton.
“I was elated to hear that treatment had worked,” adds Kevin. “When I came back for a third scan, one year after my first PET/CT, the results were the same. Treatment had worked.”
Kevin now sees Dr. McKenna and his head and neck cancer surgeon annually to monitor his progress.
“Some days it feels like it was just a bad dream because now I feel great and my life is back to normal,” says Kevin.