State of the art PET scans now available close to home |

State of the art PET scans now available close to home

A new traveling PET/CT scan mobile unit comes to the UCHealth Jan Bishop Cancer Center in Steamboat Springs every 2 weeks, providing patients with new technology locally since late September.
File photo

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Every two weeks, a traveling PET/CT scan mobile unit makes its way to Routt County.

Parked outside the UCHealth Jan Bishop Cancer Center, the new technology has been available locally since late September and is being well utilized.

Fourteen patients received scans during just the first two Thursdays the service was available.

The state of the art technology is especially important for cancer patients, like Steamboat Springs resident Fran Conlon, for whom a CAT scan is too damaging on his fragile kidneys.

Oncologist Dr. Allen Cohn, who also makes regular visits to Steamboat to see patients, including Conlon, said the technology is more accurate than a CAT scan in terms of evaluating whether a disease has spread and how the disease is responding to treatment. And it helps develop a better treatment plan, he said.

PET scans are frequently combined with a CT or MRI, which provides doctors with both anatomic and metabolic data.

“Positron emission tomography (PET) is a type of imaging technology used to evaluate how your tissues and organs work at the cellular level,” according to “It involves the injection of a short-acting radioactive substance, known as a radiotracer, which is absorbed by biologically active cells. You are then placed in a tunnel-like device that is able to detect and translate the emitted radiation into three-dimensional images. By identifying abnormalities in the metabolism of a cell, a PET scan can diagnose and assess the severity of a wide range of diseases, including cancer, heart disease and disorders of the brain.”

The most common tracer, used in 90% of PET scans, is known as fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG). However there are 40 different radiotracers utilized in the process, capable of identifying different types of clots, infections and tumors — and more being developed every day.

“It gives you more information to deal with,” Conlon said. “It shows what’s inside without an operation — that’s always nice, not to have them cut you up.”

It’s one of the only safe modalities for people with kidney problems, Cohn said.

In what Conlon describes as “one of those freak cases,” his kidneys were attacked during immunotherapy treatment.

Cohn said he worked hard to bring the technology to Steamboat, as “it allows us to use state of the art imaging modalities without patients having to leave the area.”

Previously, Conlon had to drive to Fort Collins for the scans.

Now, he saves “two hundred miles each way” and “especially in bad weather,” Conlon said. “I’m not a fan of Walden to Fort Collins in bad weather.”

Once inside, you wouldn’t know you are in a mobile unit,” said UCHealth Communications Specialist Lindsey Reznicek. “Patients check in at the cancer center and then are escorted to the mobile unit for their scan by a member of our radiology team. The patient receives the injection and then has a comfortable area to wait while the glucose in the injection is allowed to metabolize. After the necessary time passes, the patient receives their scan. The length of each appointment varies based on the type of cancer being monitored and how long the injection needs to metabolize before the scan, which in turn changes the number of patients that can be scheduled each time the mobile unit is here.”

At this time, Cohn said Conlon is doing well — off therapy and undergoing regular monitoring. And his kidney function has increased.

“I’m holding my own,” Conlon said.

To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.

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