Nuclear medicine is a special type of imaging procedure that uses a very small amount of radioactive materials (radiopharmaceuticals) to diagnose or treat a variety of diseases. In imaging, the radiopharmaceuticals are detected by special types of cameras that work with computers to provide very precise pictures of the area of the body being imaged. In treatment, the radiopharmaceuticals go directly to the organ being treated. The amount of radiation in a typical nuclear imaging procedure is comparable with that received during a diagnostic X-ray, and the amount received in a typical treatment procedure is kept within safe limits.
Nuclear medicine specialists use safe, painless, and cost-effective techniques to image the body and treat disease. Nuclear medicine imaging differs from an X-ray, ultrasound and other diagnostic exams because it determines the presence of disease based on biological changes rather than changes in anatomy. It is a way to gather medical information that would otherwise be unavailable, require surgery, or necessitate more expensive diagnostic tests. Nuclear medicine imaging procedures often identify abnormalities very early in the progress of a disease, long before many medical problems are apparent with other diagnostic tests.
The most common exam is a bone scan, but other studies evaluate the thyroid, heart, lungs, liver, gallbladder, kidneys, gastrointestinal tract, brain as well as other studies that specialize in tumor and infection imaging.
Preparation for the exam varies. You will be given instructions after you schedule your study.
Nuclear medicine procedures are safe and painless. Small amounts of radiopharmaceuticals are introduced into the body by injection, swallowing, or inhalation. Radiopharmaceuticals are substances that are attracted to specific organs, bones, or tissues. The amount of radiopharmaceutical used is carefully selected to provide the least amount of radiation exposure to the patient but ensure an accurate test. A special camera (PET, SPECT or gamma camera) is then used to take pictures of your body. The camera detects the radiopharmaceutical in the organ, bone or tissue and forms images that provide data and information about the area in question. After the examination is complete, the pictures will be reviewed by one of our board certified radiologists and a report will be sent to your doctor.