In conventional X-ray or CT examinations. The radiation comes out of a machine and then passes through the patient's body. Nuclear medicine exams, however, use the opposite approach: a radioactive material is introduced in the patient's body (usually by injection), and is then detected by a machine called a gamma camera.
You're probably thinking "that sounds pretty risky." Actually, the radioactive materials used have very short half-lives, which means that they decay rapidly into non-radioactive form. Therefore, radioactive material is only inside the patient for a very short time, and the total dose of radiation is relatively small - similar and sometimes even less than in many other kinds of X-ray procedures.
WHY NOT JUST GET A REGULAR X-RAY? X-rays and nuclear medicine serve both overlapping and different functions. X-rays produce a structural image of an organ - in other words, they tell us what the organ looks like. On the other hand, nuclear scans can locate areas of altered function. That is, they can tell us whether the organ is working properly. For example, in one kind of nuclear scan called bone imaging, abnormalities are apparent weeks or months before they appear on X-rays. On the X-ray one might see that the bone is not broken, but on the bone scan, physicians can diagnose metabolic changes caused by small tumors, fine fractures, or degenerative diseases such as arthritis. The Nuclear Medicine Department is accredited by the American College of Radiology.
Directions within the hospital
Your appointment is on the Basement floor in the Nuclear Medicine Department. Enter the main entrance and a volunteer will direct you to the department.