Get diagnosed…at the airport By Dr. Dave Hepburn

Dr. Dave Hepburn:

Being a Wisequack means making wisecracks at every opportunity where doing so fulfills some innate need in my soul to prevent me from ever truly maturing. I remain in the chrysalis phase of life and doubt I will ever really metamorphosize into the butterfly or a Sear sucker munching moth that I should be. Fellow Wisequack Rob Sealey is frankly, well…larval.

And so it was that traveling back from Phoenix, I couldn’t resist myself while standing in a full body scanner at airport security with my arms in the air looking like I got my shoulder joints stuck halfway though performing the crowd “wave” at my son’s hockey game.

I turned to the TSA security gal and winked “I feel like I need a smoke. Was it good for you?” But my wife thought that this was pretty lame repartee for me. “What you should have said dear” she suggested “is “Ummm listen, I was just swimming….”” “Babe, that’s a great line!! That’s absolutely hilari…wait a second!”  “…in the Arctic Ocean.”

Gone thru the full body scanner yet? The technique usually involves FM radio waves which, if tuned properly should be playing Barrys White and Manilow, given the intimate experience that awaits. For those who prefer not to go through these scanners, you can opt, as Sealey does, for a pat down. In fact, I heard him once ask for a cavity search believing he could get a cheap dental check up. Should have seen the size of his pupils after his check up, as “they checked up everything except my friggin’ teeth.”

But taking a good look inside our bodies is a huge part of everyday medicine and as technology reveals new technological technologies, diagnostic imaging has improved dramatically. One of the brightest new lights is the PET scan, more commonly known as  positron emission tomography.

Positron Emission Tomography - Dr. David Hepburn
Positron Emission Tomography – Dr. David Hepburn

Getting all the details from the pet shop boys, I am told that PET scans are extremely sensitive scans that allows doctors to see how organs function rather than simply looking at a fuzzy still image of them. It’s like the difference between snapping a still photo of, say a parliamentary debate or actually watching a 3D video of assorted vegetables, clothing accessories, pagers, pages being hurled across those esteemed seats of government. PET scans like to look at the metabolically active areas of our body that use a lot of energy ie. sugar that comes from our diet, our tissues and of course our lovely Snickers Bar organ.

Currently, PET scans are most commonly dealing with detecting and assessing treatment of cancer. When a cancer occurs in our body, the nasty cancer cells are very metabolically active as they multiply like an Osmond family in the spring.  Because those cells are so active, they suck up a lot of sugar, virtually stealing it from the rest of the body and literally starving out our pleasant normal cells.

This starvation is why the symptom of “unexplained weight loss” may be an indication that there is an active cancer. PET scans actually show us where there is this increased metabolic activity in our body. If it locates an area of high metabolic activity then there could well be a cancer present. If during cancer treatment, a PET scan shows no decrease in that metabolic activity, then that particular treatment regime may not be working so well.

Besides the cancer world, PET scans are also very useful in detecting heart problems (such as coronary artery disease and damage to the heart following a heart attack), brain disorders (including brain tumors, memory disorders, seizures) and other central nervous system disorders.

But a Pet peeve that many of us have is that while there is a Pet scanner in every hospital, clinic and Burger King in the US, it is rare to spot a stray pet anywhere in Canada. The only Pet scans in my city are when Tinkymuffin, the family Shih-tsu scans the kitchen table when you take a bathroom break. But should, one day, you decide to get a PET scan, or a body scan of any type… don’t go swimming first.

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