Nuclear medicine harnesses a combination of computer technology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, and medicine.
This specialty is the practice of using small amounts of radioactive materials that are either injected, inhaled, or swallowed in preparation of an imaging scan. This way, the radioactive “tracer” material goes through the circulatory system in order to better display – and trace – the structures in the body as it emits gamma rays for the image.
In nuclear medicine, the radioactive material is naturally eliminated by the body, so there are usually little or no side effects. Incidentally, the gadolinium element that is often used as a contrast dye during an MRI or a CT scan is not radioactive, so that is not considered nuclear medicine.
Nuclear Imaging for Organ and Tissue Diagnosis
By using a radiotracer during an imaging scan, doctors can diagnose and treat abnormalities early in the progression of a disease such as cancer. The contrast agent chosen depends on the procedure and the part of the body being examined.
Once the radiotracer reaches the proper area of the body, radiation will be detected by a gamma camera or other type of detector that is focused on that part of the body. When the camera detects the radiation, this creates digital signals which are stored by a computer.
What Can Nuclear Medicine Find?
By measuring the behavior of the radiotracer in the body during the scan, the presence of various conditions can be seen and diagnosed by the doctor. These can include organ enlargement, infections, cysts, tumors, and hematomas. The areas, where the concentration of the radiotracers occur, are called “hot spots,” while the areas where the radiotracer is not absorbed are labeled as “cold spots.”
There are three phases in a nuclear medicine scan: the administration of the radiotracer, the image capturing, and the image interpretation. The period between administration of the tracer and the capturing of the images can take from a few minutes to a few days, depending on the area being scanned and the type of tracer being used.
Types of Scans Done via Nuclear Imaging
There are several main types of scans done in this arena:
- One of the most commonly done nuclear medicine scans is a heart scan. This can be a cardiac stress test or a MUGA scan (multigated acquisition scan, which tests the heart ventricles).
- Bone scans can be performed to assess the metabolic activity of the bones and is commonly used in an effort to analyze cancer, arthritis, and fractures.
- A renal scan shows the drainage of kidneys and their functioning.
- A lung scan allows for the comparison of ventilation and perfusion of the lungs to help diagnose the presence of a pulmonary embolism.
- A thyroid or parathyroid scan can evaluate the performance of the function of these glands.
There is essentially no part of the body that cannot be examined via nuclear medicine. The marriage between radioactive contrast and technology can reveal any issues the human body at any time.
Scanning Specialists in Palm Beach County
If you need to have an imaging scan done, Independent Imaging can perform the exam for you and your doctor. We have four convenient locations across Palm Beach County.
Call us today at (561) 795-5558 or request an appointment online, and rest assured that your scan will be performed properly by the leading imaging company in the area.