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Nuclear Medicine

What is Nuclear Medicine?

Nuclear Medicine

Nuclear Medicine is diagnostic imaging technique used to image the function of our internal organs and skeleton. It involves the use of a small amount of radioisotopes or radiopharmaceuticals known as tracers, which are designed to target and image a specific area/organ of the body. Radioactive tracers are usually injected intravenously, but can also be ingested or inhaled depending on the body part being investigated. Because Nuclear Medicine images the function of the body, it can also be used to treat certain conditions and assess the response to treatment.

While Nuclear Medicine studies do use radiation, the dose is very low and is rapidly excreted from the body. Radioisotopes have a half life” which means they will decay by half over a period of time. The most commonly used tracer in nuclear medicine is Technetium-99m, and its half life is 6 hours.

About the Examination

There is a large range of Nuclear Medicine scans commonly performed at our sites. The tracer used depends on what particular scan or body part is being investigated.

Some Nuclear Medicine procedures will only take a short time (30 minutes), however some will take several hours and some can take several days. The duration and preparation for your specific test will depend on the organ/body part being investigated. Please check with our friendly staff at the time of making your booking regarding specific preparation for your procedure.

Before the test begins, a Qualified Nuclear Medicine Technologist will give you an explanation of the procedure/test. If patients are pregnant or breast feeding, please notify the staff at the time of making the appointment as the study may need to be postponed. On the day of your test, female patients will be asked to confirm their pregnancy/breastfeeding status before being exposed to any radiation.

For most scans, a small amount of a tracer is injected through a small vein in your arm or hand. It may take seconds to several hours for the tracer to travel through the body and accumulate in the organ/area being investigated. Because of this, the images may be taken immediately or up to a few hours/days afterwards.

Nuclear Medicine uses a special camera to detect radiation inside the body called a "Gamma Camera". The camera does not emit any radiation and is not dangerous. The patient is usually lying on a scanning table and positioned with the area of interest adjacent to the camera to capture the images.

What is examined by Nuclear Medicine?

There are many applications for Nuclear Medicine in assessing all organs/systems of the body.

Commonly performed examinations in Nuclear Medicine:

  • Bone Scans
  • Thyroid Scans
  • Lung Scans
  • Myocardial Perfusion Scans
  • Gated Heart Pool Scans (GHPS)
  • Hepatobiliary Scans
  • Renal Scans
  • Gastric emptying Scans
  • Bowel Transit Scans

What are the clinical indications for Nuclear Medicine?

Nuclear Medicine is used to assess the effects of disease on the physiological function of organs/systems of the body.

Why is Nuclear Medicine required and what are the benefits?

Information obtained using Nuclear Medicine complements other imaging procedures because it demonstrates organ function as well as structure. The result is that many diseases and cancers may be diagnosed much earlier, as it provides diagnostic information of pathological processes before the onset of structural changes.

What are the risks and complications of Nuclear Medicine?

Patients who undergo Nuclear Medicine procedures are exposed to a small dose of radiation, following the ALARA (As Low As Reasonably Achievable) principle.

Administration of radiation to patients is highly regulated and exposure is well within the published guidelines from public health authorities. Your doctor will have taken into consideration the benefit of having this procedure and the radiation exposure from these procedures before requesting any Nuclear Medicine test.

Side effects or allergic reactions are extremely rare, as the radioactive tracers are usually based on water and not iodine like X-ray contrast. Patients can eat, drink, and drive a car after having a Nuclear Medicine scan, and will not feel sick or dizzy.

Complementary Imaging Procedures for Nuclear Medicine.

Other diagnostic imaging modalities that may complement Nuclear Medicine include:

  • X-ray
  • CT
  • Ultrasound
  • MRI

Preparation for Nuclear Medicine

Is a special diet required before your Nuclear Medicine scan?

Some procedures will require specific preparation but a special diet is not usually required for Nuclear Medicine Scans. The duration and preparation for your specific test will depend on the organ/body part being investigated.

Please check with our friendly staff at the time of making your booking regarding preparation for your procedure.

What should you tell the staff/Nuclear Medicine Technologist before your Nuclear Medicine scan?

Please notify the staff at the time of making the appointment if you are pregnant or breast feeding as the study may need to be postponed. On the day of your test, females will be asked to confirm your pregnancy/breast feeding status before being exposed to any radiation. It’s very important to notify staff if there is any chance of pregnancy.

Please notify our staff if you have any allergies, if currently taking any medications or if you are diabetic.

What to bring for your Nuclear Medicine scan?

You should bring your referral/request and you should bring any previous imaging or blood test results you have, as they may be needed for comparison.

You should bring a list of all of your medications you take.

Non English speaking patients are welcome to bring a suitable relative/friend who can interpret for them.

What to wear for your Nuclear Medicine scan?

You should avoid wearing any clothing which is tight or restrictive.

You should avoid wearing any metal.

How long will Nuclear Medicine scan take?

Depending on the procedure, your appointment can be as short as 30 minutes or take up to a couple of hours, days/week to complete.

  • Please check with our friendly staff at the time of making your appointment.

Nuclear Medicine Procedure Description

What does a Nuclear Medicine scan involve?

Many Nuclear Medicine examinations do not require any specific preparation. However some preparations may be required depending on the examination being performed. Please check with our friendly staff at the time of making your booking regarding preparation for your procedure.

Before the test begins, a Qualified Nuclear Medicine Technologist will give you an explanation about the procedure. There is a large range of Nuclear Medicine scans commonly performed at our sites.

The technologist will take a brief history of why you are having the scan, check you are correctly prepared for the test and confirm the pregnancy/breastfeeding status of female patients. The technologist will be able to answer any of your questions before the procedure begins.

The technologist will administer the tracer usually through a vein in the arm/hand and the procedure will begin either immediately or after a time delay depending on the type of scan being performed. Some tests require the patient to breathe in the tracer through a small tube and some will be ingested into the stomach, it just depends on the type of scan requested by your doctor.

Most procedures are done lying on a scanning bed but some can be done either standing or seated in front of the gamma camera. You will be asked to keep very still while acquiring the images and you can breathe normally. Nuclear Medicine images take several minutes to acquire, unlike plain x-rays which take seconds.

The technologist will give an indication of how long the scan takes, however the duration of the scan will vary depending on the type of scan and why the scan is performed.

Post Nuclear Medicine Scan Instructions

What are the recovery details after your Nuclear Medicine Scan?

There is no recovery time. Patients will be able to return to normal activities and work immediately after the procedure.

As the radioactive material takes several hours to decay and be excreted by the body, it is important to avoid close or prolonged contact with pregnant women and babies for a period of time after your injection/scan. The technologist performing your scan can give a more detailed explanation depending on the type of tracer used.

Side effects or allergic reactions are extremely rare, as the radioactive tracers are usually based on water and not iodine like X-ray contrast. Patients can eat, drink, and drive a car after having a Nuclear Medicine scan, and will not feel sick or dizzy.

Can I drive home?

Yes, you will be able to drive home after the procedure. The radioactive tracer will not make you feel any different and you will be able to resume normal activities such as eating, drinking and driving.