Children's Hospital Colorado

Positron Emission Technology (PET Scan) at Children’s Hospital Colorado

At Children’s Hospital Colorado, we treat the big things, the small things and everything in between.



Doctors at Children’s Colorado use positron emission technology, also known as PET scans, to diagnose and treat a variety of conditions. We may recommend this imaging procedure as part of your child’s care.

What are pediatric PET scans?

PET scans are a type of nuclear medicine imaging that helps us analyze how your child’s internal organs and tissue function on a cellular level. These tests use tiny amounts of radioactive materials (radiotracers), a special camera and a computer to create 3D images.

The PET scan measures chemical reactions in the cells that convert food into energy (called metabolism). It collects information about your child’s blood flow, oxygen use, sugar use and more. These tests can help us diagnose disease in the early stages and see whether your child’s body is responding to treatment.

How do we use PET scans?

PET images are combined with those from a computed tomography scan (CT scan) in one machine that creates 3D images of a specific area of the body. These detailed PET images give doctors more information about conditions like:

  • Pediatric tumors
  • Infections
  • Neurological problems and seizures

How should I prepare my child for a pediatric PET scan?

Here are a few tips to help prepare for your child’s scan:

  • Take time to talk with your child and explain the test.
  • Reassure your child that they’ll be safe and comfortable.
  • You may want to bring a comfort item like a stuffed animal, toy or blanket.
  • Have your child eat a high-protein, low-carb diet and avoid sugar and strenuous exercise for 24 hours before the test. For the four hours before the scan, they should not eat or drink anything but water.

What to expect during your child’s PET scan

It’s normal for your child to feel anxious about getting a PET scan, so it’s helpful to know what to expect. The procedure will generally look like this:

Check in to the hospital

  • Your doctor will advise you when to arrive at the hospital, depending on whether your child needs anesthesia for the test. You will usually arrive 90 minutes before your child’s scheduled scan.
  • Bring a list of your child’s medicines and insurance card.
  • We’ll give your child an identification bracelet to ensure they get the right test.
  • A nuclear medicine technologist talks with you about the procedure and answers any questions.

We encourage parents or guardians to stay with your child in the exam room. If you’re pregnant, you cannot be exposed to the radiation used in a PET scan, so please bring another adult to the hospital to support your child. Siblings and other children are not allowed in the exam room during the test.

Take the radiotracer

  • We inject a small amount of radiotracer agent into a vein in your child’s arm through an intravenous (IV) catheter. The radiotracer travels through your child’s bloodstream to the area we’re studying, which takes about 60 minutes.
  • It’s important for your child to stay still and quiet during this time, and many kids choose to watch a movie or rest.
  • After the radiotracer has absorbed, your child can use the bathroom.

Take the images

  • We head to the PET room, and your child lies on an imaging table, covered in blankets.
  • The table slides in and out of a donut-shaped scanner machine, similar to a CT scan. The scanner makes very few sounds as it takes pictures for about 20–30 minutes.
  • If your child is also having a CT scan, we’ll perform it before or after the PET scan.
  • The radiologist reviews the results and sends a report to your child’s doctor, who follows up with you on next steps.

What to expect after a pediatric PET scan

  • Your child can return to regular activities right away, unless their doctor recommends otherwise.
  • The radiotracer passes out of your child’s body through urine (pee) or stool (poop). Your child should drink plenty of water to help flush it out.

If you have any questions and/or concerns, call the ParentSmart Healthline toll free at 1-855-KID-INFO (543-4636). Caring pediatric nurses are available 24/7 to help answer your questions.

Why choose us for pediatric PET scans

As a comprehensive pediatric hospital, Children’s Colorado specializes in caring for children’s unique medical needs. We offer:

  • Expertise: Our skilled Imaging Services team cares for thousands of children throughout Colorado. An experienced radiologic technologist performs your child’s PET scan, and a highly trained pediatric radiologist interprets it.
  • Child-friendly exams: We use appropriate doses of radiotracer to provide a safer, more comfortable experience. Your child also gets age-appropriate support from our child life specialists, who specialize in putting kids at ease.
  • Advanced technology: We use sophisticated equipment to create accurate images of your child’s body, so we can provide accurate diagnosis and treatment.

Learn more and schedule a pediatric PET scan

For more questions or to schedule a PET-CT scan test, contact the Children’s Colorado general radiology scheduling line at 720-777-6541.