Nuclear Medicine involves the use of small amounts of radioactive materials (or 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.

In many centers, nuclear medicine images can be superimposed with computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to produce special views, a practice known as image fusion or co-registration. These views allow the information from two different exams to be correlated and interpreted on one image, leading to more precise information and accurate diagnoses. In addition, manufacturers are now making single photon emission computed tomography/computed tomography (SPECT/CT) and positron emission tomography/computed tomography (PET/CT) units that are able to perform both imaging exams at the same time. An emerging imaging technology, but not readily available at this time is PET/MRI.

Nuclear medicine, or radionuclide, diagnostic imaging procedures are noninvasive and, with the exception of intravenous injections, are usually painless medical tests that help physicians diagnose and evaluate medical conditions.

These imaging scans use radioactive materials called radiopharmaceuticals or radiotracers.

Nuclear medicine, or radionuclide, diagnostic imaging procedures are noninvasive and, with the exception of intravenous injections, are usually painless medical tests that help physicians diagnose and evaluate medical conditions. These imaging scans use radioactive materials called radiopharmaceuticals or radiotracers.

Depending on the type of nuclear medicine exam, the radiotracer is either injected into the body, swallowed or inhaled as a gas and eventually accumulates in the organ or area of the body being examined. Radioactive emissions from the radiotracer are detected by a special camera or imaging device that produces pictures and detailed molecular information.

Millions of nuclear medicine tests are performed each year in the United States alone.  Nuclear medicine tests (also known as scans, examinations or procedures) are safe and painless.  In a nuclear medicine test, the radioactive material is introduced into the body by injection or swallowing.  Generally, nuclear medicine tests are not recommended for pregnant women because unborn babies have a greater sensitivity to radiation than children or adults.

If you are pregnant or think that you may be pregnant, your doctor may order a different type of diagnostic test.

Nuclear medicine scans are commonly performed to:

  • Stage cancer by determining the presence or spread of cancer in various parts of the body
  • Analyze native and transplant kidney function
  • Scan lungs for respiratory and blood flow problems
  • Evaluate bones for fractures, infection and arthritis
  • Investigate abnormalities in the brain, such as seizures, memory loss and abnormalities in blood flow