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Nuclear Medicine

Nuclear medicine physicians use small amounts of radioactive material, a special camera, and a computer to diagnose and treat diseases throughout the body. Nuclear medicine allows physicians to see the real-time function of structures within the body, which makes it especially useful in the diagnosis of cancer or other conditions within the heart, gastrointestinal tract, endocrine system, or nervous system.

Nuclear Medicine May be Used to

  • Determine the stage of cancer, and whether it has spread
  • Evaluate the function of the lungs
  • Visualize the function and blood flow of the heart
  • Assess damage to the heart, lungs, or bones
  • Plan treatment and evaluate the effectiveness of a specific therapy

What to Expect During a Nuclear Medicine Procedure

Nuclear medicine procedures can pinpoint molecular activity within the body, and detect diseases in their earliest stages. During a nuclear medicine procedure, radioactive material is typically injected through an IV, or it may also be inhaled or swallowed. As the radioactive material travels through the body, it gives off gamma rays, which are detected by the special camera, also known as a gamma camera. The radioactive material accumulates where there is a high level of chemical or metabolic activity, which is visible on resulting nuclear medicine images. The images obtained from a nuclear medicine procedure may be combined with images from a CT or MRI scan, which produces more precise information and can help lead to a more accurate diagnosis.

Types of Nuclear Medicine Procedures

Some specific types of nuclear medicine procedures include:

Cancer Staging
Nuclear medicine may be used to obtain information about any organ, tissue, or bone within the body.

Bone Scan
A bone scan is used to look for cancers that may have spread to the bones. Nuclear medicine scans are often able to catch cancer activity in the bones much earlier than other types of medical imaging.

Lung Scan
A lung scan is most often used to diagnose a pulmonary embolism. There are two types of lung scans; a ventilation scan evaluates the movement of air in and out of the lungs, while a perfusion scan evaluates blood flow within the lungs.

Developed by the American College of Radiology (ACR) and the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), provides more information about radiology tests, treatments and patient safety.