Nuclear Medicine

What is Nuclear Medicine?

Nuclear medicine is a branch of medical imaging that uses small amounts of radioactive material to diagnose and determine the severity of or treat a variety of diseases, including many types of cancers, heart disease, gastrointestinal, endocrine, neurological disorders and other abnormalities within the body. Because nuclear medicine procedures are able to pinpoint molecular activity within the body, they offer the potential to identify disease in its earliest stages as well as a patient’s immediate response to therapeutic interventions.

Nuclear medicine, or radionuclide, diagnostic imaging procedures are noninvasive and, with the exception of intravenous injections, are usually painless medical tests that help physicians diagnose and evaluate medical conditions. These imaging scans use radioactive materials called radiopharmaceuticals or radiotracers.

Depending on the type of nuclear medicine exam, the radiotracer is either injected into the body, swallowed or inhaled as a gas and eventually accumulates in the organ or area of the body being examined. Radioactive emissions from the radiotracer are detected by a special camera or imaging device that produces pictures and detailed molecular information.

What are some common uses of the procedure?

Physicians use radionuclide imaging procedures to visualize the structure and function of an organ, tissue, bone or system within the body in order to:

  • Stage cancer by determining the presence or spread of cancer in various parts of the body
  • Localize sentinel lymph nodes before surgery in patients with breast cancer or skin and soft tissue tumors.
  • Plan treatment
  • Evaluate response to therapy
  • Detect the recurrence of cancer
  • Detect rare tumors of the pancreas and adrenal glands

How should I prepare?

You may be asked to wear a gown during the exam or you may be allowed to wear your own clothing.

Women should always inform their physician or technologist if there is any possibility that they are pregnant or if they are breastfeeding.

You should inform your physician and the technologist performing your exam of any medications you are taking, including vitamins and herbal supplements. You should also inform them if you have any allergies and about recent illnesses or other medical conditions.

You will receive specific instructions based on the type of scan you are undergoing.

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