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Mesothelioma PET Scans

Positron emission tomography (PET) scans are an important tool in detecting mesothelioma, a rare cancer caused by asbestos exposure. A PET scan not only helps your doctor spot potential signs of mesothelioma but also shows them the extent of the disease and how to treat it. Learn how PET scans work, what to expect, and how Mesothelioma Hope can help you navigate a potential diagnosis.

Fact-Checked and Updated by: Jenna Tozzi, RN

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How Do PET Scans Help Diagnose Mesothelioma?

A PET scan for mesothelioma provides detailed 3D images that help doctors identify areas where tumors may be growing. This helps them see how far the cancer may have spread and informs further testing and treatment.

“The PET scan will help your team see how much the disease has spread or how big the tumor is.”

- Quote from Amy Fair, RN, Mesothelioma Hope Patient Advocate

It’s important to note that PET scans alone cannot confirm whether you have mesothelioma. A definitive mesothelioma diagnosis requires a biopsy, where a tissue or fluid sample is examined under a microscope for the presence of cancer.

Key Facts on PET Scans for Mesothelioma

  • How they’re used: Diagnosing, staging, and monitoring mesothelioma cancer
  • Types of mesothelioma detected: Most commonly pleural and peritoneal; pericardial and testicular in rare cases
  • How they work: A small amount of a radioactive sugar-like substance called a tracer is injected into the bloodstream to highlight the cell activity of the body’s organs and tissues.
  • Procedure time: Between 30-90 minutes

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What to Expect With a Mesothelioma PET Scan

Mesothelioma PET scans generally follow the same procedure. Learn what to expect and what happens afterward.

1. Receive the Radioactive Tracer Injection

Before the scan happens, you’ll get an injection of a radioactive tracer, usually fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG), into a vein in your arm. This substance is similar to glucose (sugar) and is used by the PET scanner to identify cancer cells, which consume sugar quicker than normal cells.

You’ll sit in a chair for about an hour to ensure the tracer distributes properly through the body. You won’t feel anything while this is happening.

2. Get the PET Scan

PET scan of the entire body highighting areas of potential cancer
Example of a whole-body PET imaging scan highlighting areas of increased cell activity

Next, you’ll lie flat on your back on a movable bed that slides into the large, tunnel-shaped PET scanner.

The medical team will be able to communicate with you the whole time. It’s important to stay still and follow the PET technician’s instructions so they can get clear images. This includes listening for when to hold your breath if they need to take scans of your chest area.

The scan itself is painless, but it will require you to lie still for at least 30 minutes.

3. Discuss the Radiology Report With Your Doctor

After the scan, the data collected by the scanner is processed and analyzed by a radiologist (a doctor trained to interpret imaging tests).

While the PET scan provides images immediately, reviewing them takes time. Most patients receive results from their oncologist in a few days and will have a chance to discuss the findings, ask questions, and figure out the next steps.

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How to Prepare for Your PET Scan

You can take the following actions to get ready for your mesothelioma PET scan:

  • Avoid wearing jewelry or other metal objects: The PET technician will ask you to remove any jewelry and clothing with metal parts since they can interfere with the scanning process.
  • Disclose current medications and recent illnesses. Be sure to tell your doctor if you’re taking any medications or if you’ve recently been sick.
  • Dress comfortably: Wear loose, comfortable clothing if possible. You may be allowed to wear your own clothes during the scan, or a hospital gown may be provided for you.
  • Reduce your physical activity and food intake: You should avoid eating for 6 hours before the scan (drinking water is fine). It’s also best to avoid strenuous exercise for 24 hours prior to your appointment.
  • Tell the team if you’re claustrophobic: If you let the medical staff know ahead of time, they may be able to provide a mild sedative to help you relax.

Your doctor will also give you detailed instructions before your appointment so you know what to expect.

Use our Free Doctor Match to connect with mesothelioma specialists who can use PET scans and other tests to accurately diagnose you.

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What Does Mesothelioma Look Like on a PET Scan?

Generally speaking, potential mesothelioma tumors will show up as brightly colored areas in PET scan images. This is because cancerous cells absorb more of the FDG tracer than healthy tissues and use more energy to process it.

However, cancer can appear slightly different based on the location (type) of mesothelioma and whether it’s spread to other areas of the body.

Here’s what the four types of mesothelioma may look like on a PET scan:

  1. Pleural mesothelioma: This type develops in the lung lining (pleura). On a PET scan, malignant pleural mesothelioma shows up as bright spots along the surface of the lungs, indicating the presence of cancerous cells.
  2. Peritoneal mesothelioma: This form of mesothelioma affects the lining of the abdomen (peritoneum). A peritoneal mesothelioma PET scan will usually indicate areas of increased cell activity in the abdominal cavity, particularly around the peritoneum and organs like the liver, intestines, and spleen.
  3. Pericardial mesothelioma: This rare subtype develops in the heart lining (pericardium). On a PET scan, pericardial mesothelioma may present as abnormal tissue growth around the heart and within the pericardium.
  4. Testicular mesothelioma: This is another rare form of mesothelioma that affects the tunica vaginalis, the lining surrounding the testicles. Testicular mesothelioma may show up as brightly colored areas within the scrotum on PET scans.

However, not all cancerous cells show up on a PET scan, and areas that may look like mesothelioma at first can turn out to be benign (noncancerous).

That’s why it can be helpful to combine a mesothelioma PET scan with another imaging test like a CT scan and order a tissue/fluid biopsy to see if it’s actually cancer.

Other Tests Used to Diagnose Mesothelioma

In addition to PET scans, other imaging scans and tests can be used to diagnose mesothelioma.

These include the following imaging scans:

  • Chest X-rays
  • Computed tomography (CT) scans
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans
  • Ultrasounds

Combination Mesothelioma/PET Scans

Some oncologists (cancer doctors) use a combination mesothelioma PET/CT scan since these imaging scans can be more sensitive and find cancer sooner than other types of tests.

“If your doctor finds a suspicious growth during a CT scan, he or she may order a PET/CT scan, which combines PET and CT scans.

The CT portion of the test uses X-rays to create cross-sectional images of the body, while the PET scan detects tumor activity.”
– NYU Langone Perlmutter Cancer Center

Blood Tests and Biopsies

Blood tests are another tool available to help confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis. Although blood tests can’t definitively diagnose mesothelioma, they can help identify whether you have specific biomarkers (substances that could indicate asbestos exposure, the only known cause of this cancer).

If doctors find possible signs of cancer on PET scans or other imaging tests, they can order a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. A mesothelioma biopsy is a medical procedure where your specialist will remove a small amount of tissue or liquid so it can be examined under a microscope for any signs of cancer.

What Happens After You Get a PET Scan for Mesothelioma?

A mesothelioma PET scan is an outpatient procedure, meaning you can return to your daily activities once you leave your appointment.

A radiologist will examine the pictures from the scan and send the results to your doctor within a few days. Your doctor will schedule a follow-up consultation with you to go over the PET scan findings and let you know if further testing is needed to confirm your diagnosis.

Should You Get a Second Opinion for a Mesothelioma PET Scan?

Yes, it’s always advisable to get a second opinion if you think you or a loved one may have mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma is a rare disease that can be mistaken for lung cancer or less serious illnesses. What’s more, a PET scan is just one part of the screening process for mesothelioma and should always be followed up with a biopsy to ensure an accurate diagnosis.

Having another radiologist or mesothelioma specialist review your scan results can give you peace of mind and ensure you’re getting the best care.

Connect with mesothelioma specialists in your area now using our Free Doctor Match.

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We Can Help You Get a PET Scan for Mesothelioma

The team at Mesothelioma Hope understands the importance of an accurate mesothelioma diagnosis and timely access to treatment.

We’re here to make the process easier by:

  • Helping you get tested for mesothelioma or better understand your scan results
  • Connecting you with top specialists for mesothelioma treatment
  • Supporting you and your family at each and every step of your journey

Contact our team for free or call us directly at (866) 608-8933 anytime to get personalized medical guidance.

PET Scan for Mesothelioma FAQs

Does mesothelioma show up on a PET scan?

Yes, mesothelioma can show up on a PET (positron emission tomography) scan.

PET scans are imaging tests that use a small amount of a radioactive sugar-like substance to highlight areas in the body where cells are using more energy than usual. These areas are described as having high metabolic activity.

Since mesothelioma tumor cells have higher metabolic activity compared to healthy tissues, they may show up as bright spots on a PET scan.

How long does a mesothelioma PET scan take?

A PET scan for mesothelioma takes around 30-90 minutes to complete.

The exact time can vary based on the specific procedure the hospital uses, the area being scanned, and whether other imaging tests like a CT scan or an MRI scan need to be done.

Will a PET scan catch peritoneal mesothelioma?

Yes, a PET scan can be used to help diagnose peritoneal mesothelioma, which affects the abdominal lining (peritoneum).

A mesothelioma PET scan allows doctors to see the size and location of tumors and whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body.

However, the only way to confirm whether you have peritoneal mesothelioma is to have a biopsy sample taken and examined by a pathologist (a type of doctor who studies body fluids and tissues).

When will I get the results from a mesothelioma PET scan?

The results from a mesothelioma PET scan are usually available within a few days. The images have to be reviewed closely by a radiologist, who will then provide your mesothelioma doctor with their final report to share with you during a follow-up visit.

Are there any side effects with a mesothelioma PET scan?

There are typically no side effects from undergoing a PET scan for mesothelioma. You should be able to resume your normal activities immediately after the test.

Jenna TozziWritten by:

Director of Patient Advocacy

Jenna Tozzi, RN, is the Director of Patient Advocacy at Mesothelioma Hope. With more than 15 years of experience as an adult and pediatric oncology nurse navigator, Jenna provides exceptional guidance and support to mesothelioma patients and their loved ones. Jenna has been featured in Oncology Nursing News and is a member of the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators & the American Nurses Association.

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  1. American Cancer Society. (2018, November 16). How is Malignant Mesothelioma Diagnosed? Retrieved April 17, 2024, from
  2. City of Hope. (2021, October 19). PET/CT scan for cancer. Retrieved April 17, 2024, from
  3. Gao, R., et al. (2019). Diagnostic value of soluble mesothelin-related peptides in pleural effusion for malignant pleural mesothelioma: An updated meta-analysis. Medicine, 98(14), e14979. Retrieved April 17, 2024, from
  4. Ledda, C., et al. (2019). Fibulin-3 as biomarker of malignant mesothelioma. Biomarkers in medicine, 13(10), 875–886. Retrieved April 17, 2024, from
  5. Mayo Clinic. (2023, April 18). Positron emission tomography scan. Retrieved April 17, 2024, from
  6. National Cancer Institute. (n.d.). Radioactive glucose. Retrieved April 17, 2024, from
  7. NYU Langone Perlmutter Cancer Center. (n.d.). Diagnosing Malignant Mesothelioma. Retrieved April 17, 2024, from
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