Nuclear medicine is a safe, painless, and cost-effective way of gathering information that may otherwise be unavailable or require a more expensive and risky diagnostic test. Nuclear medicine involves the use of small amounts of radioactive materials, called tracers, to help diagnose and treat a variety of diseases. Nuclear medicine determines the cause of the medical problem based on the function of the organ, tissue or bone. The information enables physicians to provide a quick, accurate diagnosis of conditions such as cancer, heart disease, thyroid disorders and bone fractures. This is how nuclear medicine differs from an X-ray, ultrasound or any other diagnostic test that determines the presence of disease based on structural appearance.
What to Expect
Nuclear Medicine procedures are highly accurate and safe diagnostic procedures. Patients are given, by mouth or through an injection, a safe, low dose radioactive tracer that travels to a target area allowing for specific organs or bones to be imaged with a special camera called a gamma camera.
After the patient is given the radioactive tracer, they may proceed with imaging right away, or they may be asked to wait a short while, or return anywhere from 30 minutes to 72 hours later depending on the type of exam. This waiting period allows for the tracer to travel to a specific area in the body in order for images to be taken by the camera.
With the use of the gamma camera, doctors can detect the location of the radiopharmaceutical in the patient’s body. Computers enhance the camera images on a screen. Doctors will be able to tell if the body part being tested is functioning normally.
Positron Emission Tomography (PET)
A positron emission tomography (PET) scan is a unique type of imaging test that helps doctors see how the organs and tissues inside the body are actually functioning.
PET is a powerful diagnostic test in detecting and staging most cancers, often before they are evident through other tests. PET can also give physicians important early information about heart disease and many neurological disorders, like Alzheimer's.
A PET scan can measure such vital functions as blood flow, oxygen use, and glucose metabolism, which helps doctors identify abnormal from normal functioning organs and tissues. The scan can also be used to evaluate the effectiveness of a patient’s treatment plan, allowing the course of care to be adjusted if necessary.
A PET scan examines a body's chemistry. Most common medical tests, like CT and MR scans, only show details about the structure of the body. PET also provides information about function throughout the entire body, uncovering abnormalities that might otherwise go undetected.
A PET scan is the most accurate, non-invasive way to tell whether or not a tumor is benign or malignant, which spares patients expensive, often painful diagnostic surgeries; enabling treatment options earlier in the course of the disease. Although cancer spreads silently in the body, PET can inspect all organs of the body for cancer in a single examination.
Safety of Nuclear Medicine
Nuclear medicine is extremely safe because the radioactive tracers, or radiopharmaceuticals, used are quickly eliminated from the body through its natural functions. In addition, the tracers used rapidly lose their radioactivity. In most cases, the dose of radiation necessary for a scan is very small.
Individuals are exposed to radiation every day. For most people, natural background radiation from space, rocks, soil, and even carbon and potassium atoms in his or her own body, accounts for 85 percent of their annual exposure. Additional exposure is received from consumer products such as household smoke detectors, color television sets, and luminous dial clocks. The remainder is from X-rays and radioactive materials used for medical diagnosis and therapy. With most nuclear medicine procedures, the patient receives about the same amount of radiation as that acquired in a few months of normal living.
Because of their special training, the nuclear medicine physician is able to select the most appropriate examination for the patient's particular medical problem, thereby avoiding any unnecessary radiation exposure.
Our physicians have years of experience in nuclear medicine. For more information or for a free physician referral, call 561.95.LEARN (561.955.3276).