What Is It?
Nuclear medicine is a type of imaging that with the aid of a computer and specialized camera, uses small amounts of radioactive material to find abnormalities and pinpoint molecular activity. This type of information cannot be obtained by other imaging studies, offering the opportunity to diagnose disease at its earliest stages. Nuclear medicine imaging procedures are non-invasive and typically painless. The use of radiotracers helps in diagnosing disease, as these often accumulate in tumors, regions of inflammation, and specific proteins in the body. Nuclear medicine studies aid diagnosis of many types of conditions such as cancer, heart disease, and disorders of the gastrointestinal, neurological, and endocrine system.
Examples of procedures include:
A PET-CT combines the imaging benefits of both nuclear medicine and CT to evaluate and pinpoint abnormal metabolic activity, especially helpful in detecting, diagnosing, and determining progression of cancer or effectiveness of cancer treatment. A PET-CT is also used to evaluate brain function or abnormalities such as seizures and memory loss.
A hepatobiliary nuclear medicine study evaluates parts of the biliary system, including the gallbladder, bile ducts, and liver. As with other nuclear medicine exams, a radiotracer is used to pinpoint the area of concern and provide information more useful in certain diagnoses than an x-ray, CT, or MRI scan.
Myocardial perfusion imaging (MPI) is often called a nuclear stress test and shows how well blood flows through your heart muscle. This test is often used to determine if you have a blockage in your coronary arteries, damage from a heart attack, or if you would benefit from a coronary angiogram, stent, or bypass surgery. For this exam, you may also be required to abstain from caffeine for 24 hours and food 4 to 6 hours prior to the exam.
Before your exam
Depending upon the exam type, you could swallow the radiotracer, inhale it as a gas, or have it injected. Wear loose-fitting clothing and be prepared to wear a gown during the exam. Remove all jewelry or metallic accessories and let the physician know of any medications, allergies, recent illness, or medical conditions you may have. Let your physician know if you may be pregnant or breastfeeding.
for your exam
Depending upon how the radiotracer is injected, it can take several seconds to several days for the radioactive material to accumulate in the area under study. The actual imaging exam takes 20 minutes to several hours and can take place over multiple days.