The Torrance Memorial Radiology Department is at the forefront of nuclear medicine imaging.
Nuclear medicine imaging uses small amounts of radioactive material to identify, diagnose and treat disease. Nuclear medicine has been used since the early 1950s, making it older than ultrasound, computed tomography (CT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Nuclear medicine studies have been done safely on infants, children and adults for more than 40 years.
About Nuclear Medicine
Nuclear imaging tests differ from x-ray, ultrasound, and other diagnostic imaging tests because they look for the biological changes in the body that indicate the presence of disease rather than changes in anatomy. Because of this basic difference, nuclear medicine imaging procedures can often identify abnormalities very early, sometimes before medical problems are apparent with other diagnostic tests.
Nuclear imaging uses a pharmaceutical drug that is attached to a small amount of radioactive material, called a radioisotope. This combination is called a radiopharmaceutical or radiotracer. Different radiotracers are available to study different parts of the body. Radiotracers are introduced into the patient's body by injection, swallowing, or inhalation. The radiotracer emits a type of radiation called gamma rays, which are detected by a special machine called a gamma camera. The gamma camera produces the images that your radiologist interprets after your nuclear medicine imaging study.
Types of Nuclear Medicine Exams
Common conditions for which nuclear medicine imaging tests are used include:
- Diagnosis and treatment of hyperthyroidism
- Cardiac stress tests to analyze heart function
- Bone scans for orthopedic injuries and to detect the spread of cancer
- Lung scans for blood clots or pulmonary function
- Liver, kidney and gallbladder scans to diagnose abnormal function or blockages.
One of the newest procedures is DaTscan, which evaluates something called an essential tremor, similar to the tremor often seen in Parkinson's syndrome.
Radiotracers are also used to treat overactive thyroid glands and sometimes as therapy for some types of cancer.
For more information on these types of exams please visit www.radiologyinfo.org.
What to Expect During a Nuclear Medicine Exam
Nuclear medicine exams are safe, painless and usually well tolerated. Because a radiopharmaceutical is injected into the body, there is a small chance of developing an allergic or adverse reaction. However, the risk of reaction is small, typically 2-3 incidents per 100,000 injections, of which, more than 50% are rashes.
After the radiotracer is administered, imaging will be done either immediately, a few hours later, or even several days after administration. Imaging times generally range from 20 to 45 minutes.
Gamma cameras produce nuclear medicine images. The gamma camera does not make any noise, nor does it transmit any radiation to the patient. Instead, the camera detects radiation that is being emitted from the patient's body.
Depending on the kind of pictures needed, the gamma cameras will operate in a stationary mode, move across the body, or rotate around the body. Sophisticated computer software is then used to process the images. A radiologist will interpret the images and forward a report to the referring physician. The report is typically available within 48 hours and can be discussed with you by your physician.
Nuclear Medicine Studies and Radiation
The Torrance Memorial Radiology Department is committed to performing high quality imaging studies while adhering to principles of radiation safety. Nuclear medicine technologists use 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.
After most nuclear medicine procedures it is generally advised to drink a lot of fluid and urinate as frequently as possible, as this helps to flush the remaining radioactivity out of the body. Your nuclear medicine technologist will advise you on the length of time you will need to do this.