Glossary Index

Nuclear Medicine

A nuclear medicine exam is a safe and painless procedure which utilizes radioactive material to detect, diagnose and treat disease. It can often identify abnormalities early in the progression of a disease, a time when a more successful treatment may be possible.

Nuclear medicine differs from other exams, such as x-ray, CT or MRI, because it images organ function, rather than just the anatomy. This means that it can show how an organ is working, not simply what it looks like. This allows us to not only monitor cancer, but also study the activity of many organs including the thyroid, heart, stomach and kidneys.

Nuclear medicine is also well known for imaging the bones and joints to detect a number of abnormalities including trauma, fractures, arthritis or tumors.

Preparation for your Nuclear Medicine scan will depend on the type of exam; a representative will call you prior to your appointment to provide specific instructions, and review health and insurance information.

Please bring previous imaging study results (x-ray, MRI, CT, etc.) such as reports, films or CD-roms if available. Notify a member of our staff if you are nursing or if there is a chance you could be pregnant. Please arrive 15 minutes early to verify your registration and health information.

Nuclear medicine uses a small, safe amount of radioactive tracer, or contrast (dye) agent, that goes to specific organs, bones, or tissues. The tracer will be administered orally or by an IV injection in your arm. It may take a few minutes or up to five hours for the tracer to reach the specific area to be studied. If there is a long wait period, you will be free to leave the center and return for your scan several hours later.

You will lie on a padded table. Once in position, the tracer emits gamma rays that are detected by a special camera. It works with computers to form images that provide data about the body area in question.

The nuclear medicine scan takes approximately 30-60 minutes. These procedures are very safe. The amount of radiation needed for the exam is minimal and the body eliminates the tracer material typically within 24 hours. Drinking extra water will help remove the tracer more quickly.

After the exam, a radiologist who specializes in a specific area of the body reviews your images (i.e., a cardiologist will review the images of your heart). The radiologist prepares a diagnostic report to share with your doctor. Your doctor will consider this information in context of your overall care, and talk with you about the results.