Nuclear medicine may sound intimidating, but it's actually as safe as X-ray imaging and can be a beneficial procedure.
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.
Because the doses of radiotracer administered are small, diagnostic nuclear medicine procedures result in low radiation exposure.
Nuclear imaging can be used to analyze kidney function; look at blood flow and function of organs; evaluate bones for fracture, infection, arthritis or tumor; determine the presence or spread of cancer and locate the presence of infection.
The patient is given a radioisotope either by mouth or through an IV before the procedure. The gamma rays given off by the radioisotopes are detected by a special camera, and images are produced with help from a computer.
The information provided by nuclear medicine examinations is unique and not available from other imaging methods. Nuclear imaging findings may even eliminate the need for exploratory surgery.
Positron emission tomography, also called PET imaging or a PET scan, is a type of nuclear medicine imaging.
CT scans and MRIs are designed to look at the structure of body parts. Positron emission tomography, or PET scan, measures the metabolic activity of body tissues.
A PET scan may be able to help your physician decide if a mass in your body on X-ray is a scar or an active cancer. It is also used to evaluate the heart’s metabolism and blood flow, detect certain types of tumors, such as lung and breast tumors, and examine brain function. It may help determine Alzheimer's dementia from other types of diseases that cause memory loss.
During a PET scan, a radioactive substance called a tracer is combined with a chemical substance and either inhaled or injected into a vein. The tracer emits positrons—tiny, positively charged particles that produce signals. A special camera records the tracer's signals as it travels through the body and collects in organs. A computer then converts the signals into three-dimensional images of the examined organ.
The entire procedure takes 30 minutes to three hours to perform.