A PET scan is a nuclear medicine imaging test that uses radioactive materials to show how organs and tissues are working. Brain PET scans allow doctors to monitor brain function, disease processes and response to treatment.

This allows doctors to diagnose conditions that may not appear on CT scans, MRI and other types of imaging.

PET is an essential part of treatment for patients with conditions affecting memory, movement, and other brain functions, including Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, stroke and Parkinson’s disease.

Doctors often combine PET with other types of imaging, like CT, to assess function and structure details for a more accurate diagnosis.

PET/CT scans can:

  • Diagnose cancerous and noncancerous brain tumors
  • Distinguish between Parkinson’s disease or other movement disorders
  • Map the brain areas of critical functions like movement and speech
  • Show where in the brain epileptic seizures start

PET/CT Makes a Difference

We use PET/CT scans to determine possible treatment and outcomes for patients.

To make an appointment at the Diagnostic Radiology Department inside UMMC, call 410-328-3225.

For brain PET scans we see patients with conditions like:

Alzheimer’s and Dementia

PET/CT is the only imaging that allows doctors tell if a patient has Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s or Pick’s disease. Huntington's is an inherited, degenerative brain disease. It slowly diminishes a person’s ability to walk, think, talk and reason.

The cause of Pick’s is unknown. It affects the brain’s frontal and temporal lobes, causing a progressive, irreversible decline much like Alzheimer's. Before PET scans became available, the only way to diagnose Pick's disease was after autopsy.

Besides dementia, PET/CT scans can also show whether memory loss is cause by depression or vascular dementia. The second most common cause of dementia, vascular dementia usually results from many small ischemic strokes that cause reduced blood flow in the brain. Dementia may occur when a stroke damages the area of the brain controlling memory or emotional function.

Brain Cancer

We use PET/CT to determine if the brain tumor is cancerous or not. If it is cancer, we can grade the degree of malignancy. We also use PET/CT to show whether any changes are due to returning cancer or scar tissue.


About 75-85 percent of patients with epilepsy respond to medication that controls or eliminates debilitating seizures. If medication doesn’t control seizures, brain surgery may be the only option. PET can prevent unnecessary surgery by helping doctors determine if surgery is the best treatment.

Parkinson’s disease

PET/CT can definitively diagnose Parkinson's disease and distinguish between Parkinson’s disease or other movement disorders. In research, PET/CT has led to many discoveries about Parkinson’s effects on the brain. It is an important part of the search for a cure.