Nuclear Medicine

Nuclear Medicine

What is nuclear medicine?

Nuclear medicine is a medical specialty dedicated to the diagnosis, management, treatment, and prevention of serious diseases. Nuclear medicine is used to look at the function of an organ, not just shape or size. Additionally, nuclear medicine pharmaceuticals can be used in the treatment or therapy of various cancers and disease processes.

Are nuclear medicine tests safe?

Nuclear medicine procedures are very safe. The pharmaceutical (tracer) used, and radiation dose given are carefully selected to ensure the minimum radiation exposure to the patient, while ensuring the accuracy of the test. The amount of radiation in a nuclear medicine test is about the same as you would receive from a diagnostic X-ray. The radiopharmaceuticals administered are not dyes and do not cause reactions the way X-ray contrasts do.

Are there any side effects?

Nuclear medicine tests are designed to monitor normal processes in the body. Tracers are made to act as naturally as possible; there is a minimal possibility of side effects. Tests that involve the use of other non-radioactive drugs may have the small possibility of side effects, which will be explained to you by the technologist performing your test. The radiation doses administered are carefully monitored for safety and pose no more risk than diagnostic X-ray tests. These tests do not discolour your urine, make you tired, affect your ability to drive, or make you glow in the dark.

Will it hurt?

Nuclear medicine procedures are painless and are very rarely associated with discomfort or side effects. Some tests involve ingesting food or drink containing a tracer, inhaling a tracer, or require an intravenous injection of the tracer for imaging. The only thing that may hurt is if the tracer is injected into a vein, and this is no worse than having your blood taken. Almost all tests involve lying on a bed for pictures.

What is a radiopharmaceutical or tracer?

A radiopharmaceutical or tracer is a specially designed drug that is bound to a radioactive material. Tracers are designed to act like natural products in the body allowing nuclear medicine tests to look at how the body is working. Tracers are designed to look at very specific organ functions.
The radiopharmaceuticals are given by injection, eating, or breathing. The radioactive part of the radiopharmaceutical is very small and emits radiation, known as gamma rays, which are detected by a gamma camera. It can take anywhere from several seconds to several days for the radiotracer to travel through your body and accumulate in the organ to be studied. As a result, imaging may be done immediately, a few hours later, or even several days after you have received the radioactive material.

The imaging portion of nuclear medicine involves having the patient lie down on a bed and the gamma camera being place a few inches over the patient’s body. Pictures are taken over the next few minutes. The total time for a nuclear medicine procedure depends on the procedure being done.

The radiopharmaceutical is most often eliminated through your urine, so you are encouraged to drink plenty of fluids following the injection.

Patients who are pregnant or breastfeeding should inform their doctor and the technologist prior to the test.

Who performs a nuclear medicine test?

A Nuclear Medicine Technologist performs the nuclear medicine test. They are a specially trained health care professional who has direct experience in the theory and practice of nuclear medicine.

How long does the procedure take?

The amount of time depends on the type of procedure you are having.

What happens after the test?

Once the test is completed you are free to resume your normal activities. If you have any questions about taking your medications you should consult your doctor.

How long does it take for my doctor to get the results?

Once the test is completed it is sent to our nuclear medicine doctors for reporting. Tests are normally reported within 24 hours. The test results are typed and sent to your doctor; this usually takes about one week.