Nuclear medicine is a subspecialty within the field of radiology that uses very small amounts of injected, ingested or inhaled radioactive materials to diagnose disease and other abnormalities. Unlike conventional diagnostic imaging, which uses an external source of energy, nuclear medicine radiologists introduce a radioactive material into the body. These radioactive materials, called radiopharmaceuticals or radiotracers, get incorporated in a specific tissue or organ and are then detected by an external scanning device or specialized camera to provide images and information on organ function and cellular activity.
Because disease begins with microscopic cell changes, nuclear medicine scans have the potential to identify disease in an earlier, more treatable stage, often before conventional imaging and other tests are able to reveal abnormalities.
A nuclear medicine scan consists of three phases: the administration of a radioactive tracer, taking images with specialized cameras or scanners and the interpretation of those images.
There are several types of nuclear medicine scans, and the radioactive tracer maybe injected into a vein, swallowed by mouth or inhaled as a gas, and eventually collects or is absorbed in the target area to be scanned. The radioactive tracer produces an energy signal that can be detected by a specialized camera or scanner (gamma camera, SPECT or PET scanners).
Nuclear Medicine Procedures
Nuclear medicine scans are used to diagnose a wide variety of medical conditions and diseases, and include:
- Renal scans examine the kidneys to find abnormalities such as abnormal function or obstruction of renal blood flow.
- PET/CT scans to search for tumors or tumor spread.
- Thyroid scans evaluate thyroid function or better evaluate a thyroid nodule or mass.
- Bone scans evaluate any degenerative and/or arthritic changes in the joints, to find bone disease and tumors, and/or to determine the cause of bone pain or inflammation.
- Gallium scans diagnose active infectious and/or inflammatory diseases, tumors, and abscesses.
- Heart scans identify abnormal blood flow to the heart, determine the extent of damage to the heart muscle after a heart attack, and/or to measure heart function.
- Brain scans investigate problems within the brain and/or in the blood circulation to the brain.
- PET scans can also be used to assess for Alzheimer’s disease
Some of the most common scans done by our nuclear medicine section, include:
- Bone Scan
- DaTscan Imaging
- First Pass Scan
- Gallium Imaging
- Gastrointestinal (GI) Bleeding Scan
- HIDA Hepatobiliary Scan
- I-123 MIBG Imaging
- Liquid Gastric Emptying
- Liver/Spleen Scan
- Lung VQ (Ventilation/Perfusion)
- Lymph Gland Imaging
- Meckel's Diverticulum Imaging
- MUGA (Multi Gated Acquisition Scan)
- Myocardial Perfusion Imaging (MPI)
- Octreotide Imaging
- Parathyroid Imaging
- PET/CT Scan
- Prostascint Imaging
- Renal Function Scan
- Solid Gastric Emptying Scan
- Tagged White Blood Cell Imaging
- Thyroid Imaging
- VCUG (Voiding Cystourethrogram)
- Whole Gut Transit Imaging
Nuclear Medicine Safety
Because the doses of radiotracer are very small, diagnostic nuclear medicine procedures result in minimal radiation exposure. Nuclear medicine procedures have been performed for more than 50 years on adults and for more than 40 years on infants and children of all ages without any known adverse effects.
The VCU Department of Radiology, nuclear medicine specialists use the newest imaging technologies and the “ALARA” principle (As Low As Reasonably Achievable) to carefully select the amount of radiotracer that will provide an accurate test with the least amount of radiation exposure to the patient.Learn More About Our Safety Office
Nuclear Medicine Faculty
Faculty within the subspecialty of nuclear medicine