Nuclear medicine is a specialized field of medicine that involves the use of radioactive substances in diagnosing and treating disease. It is especially used in imaging, including single-photon emission computerized tomography (SPECT) and positron emission tomography (PET) scans, and the use of cameras to track the pathways these tracer substances take in the patient’s body during the scan.
The field of nuclear medicine started about 50 years ago through cooperation and communication between academia, the medical industry, and large national laboratories to improve the field of diagnostics and treatment using imaging equipment refined to read radiotracer isotopes.
How It Works in Medical Imaging and Scans
A patient either swallows or receives an injection of a radioactive tracer. The tracer is not a dye or a medicine, but rather a radiation substance that will show up on a computer when the patient is scanned. If the scan reveals that the radioactive material is concentrated in a certain area of the body, the radiologist will document the location for analysis by the physician.
These radiotracers not only show the illness and the affected area, but they also permit doctors to see cellular reactions. This includes displaying how the body is fighting an illness or condition.
Nuclear Medicine as an Evolving Field
Current applications of nuclear medicine include the ability to find and diagnose cancer, neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s, and cardiovascular disease in earlier stages than ever before. It also enables doctors to assess a patient’s response to treatments, permitting more individualized care regimens with better long-term results. All of this allows for more rapid and accurate treatment, thereby reducing mortality rates and extending quality of life.
Nuclear medicine has also helped medical researchers understand the behavior of the brain with regard to its chemistry and certain issues like addiction and depression. It is showing widespread improvements in diagnosing and treating dementia, because an earlier diagnosis benefits those with the disease and their caregivers.
Nuclear Medicine Uses for Treatments
Radioactive techniques can also be used in treating illnesses, not just diagnosing them. Radioactive iodine (RAI, or I-131) has been used for over half a century to fight thyroid cancer and hypothyroidism. It is used to fight non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and bone pain associated with certain cancers.
In treating thyroid cancer, I-131 is given to the patient in targeted radionuclide therapy. As the thyroid cells absorb the radioactive substance, it kills the cancerous cells.
Doctors hope to someday have the ability to embed the same targeting and specificity of nuclear medicine with chemotherapy – thereby attacking only the cancerous cells, not nearby healthy tissue.
Imaging Center in Palm Beach County, Florida
Experts in nanotechnology, chemistry, molecular biology, and biomedical engineering are working together to improve the methods and results of nuclear medicine. In the meantime, there are several excellent technologies we’re using already in the field of radiology and imaging.
If you or a loved one need to be tested for certain types of cancer or neurological conditions, contact Independent Imaging today to schedule an appointment. Call us at (561) 795-5558 or request a consultation online, and place your health in the hands of trusted, experienced, capable imaging professionals in South Florida.