Nuclear medicine allows physicians to see what is happening inside your body on the molecular level. Learn about the science, the benefits, and the experience.
What is nuclear medicine?
Like x-rays and radiology, nuclear medicine uses radioactive materials to get a look at the body’s insides. But unlike other scans that capture structures, nuclear medicine focuses on the body’s chemistry—and encapsulates a number of other imaging tests, like PET scans.
Nuclear medicine utilizes minute doses of radioactive material—called radiotracers—to detect cell abnormality. Whether injected, taken orally, or inhaled (depending on site), radiotracers detect molecular changes in your cells, where disease begins. A technologist will use a special camera (like a PET scan) to take a picture of where the radiotracers have accumulated. Drawn to tumors, radiotracers are helpful for diagnosing cancer, as well as conditions of the thyroid, heart, and brain.
Beyond diagnostics, nuclear medicine can also be used as a tool to treat certain diseases.
What should I expect from a nuclear medicine exam?
If your physician decides that nuclear medicine is right for you, first know that this procedure is safe and painless. Many people worry about the dangers of radiation, but the dosage is minimal and the benefits outweigh any potential risk.
We offer nuclear medicine imaging through our partner St. Joseph Hospital. When you arrive for your procedure, you may be asked to put on a gown. The format for the radiotracers varies. Depending on the area of your body under examination, you may drink a liquid dosage (which has no taste), inhale radiotracer air (which is just like breathing normally), or receive an injection in your arm (which will be a quick prick and then it’s done).
After you receive the radiotracers, a technologist will ask you to lie on an exam bed while they take pictures with the special camera. It’s important to stay very still so the pictures come out crystal clear.
Throughout the exam, your technologist is there to answer any questions and make you feel as comfortable as possible.
When the technologist is done collecting images, you’ll be free to go. Over the next 2-5 days, the radiotracers will naturally leave your system. Be sure to drink a lot of fluids to effectively flush them out of your body.
Our radiologists will assess and interpret the images and send a report to your physician that same day. Please anticipate a call from your physician’s office with findings and next steps, if any.