Nuclear medicine is a branch of radiology that uses radioactive materials, or radiopharmaceutical, to diagnose disease or support differential diagnosis, to monitor disease, and to treat disease. The benefit of nuclear medicine is that it allows close examination of the organs and how they function, down to the molecular level, and allows early diagnosis of disease.
Nuclear imaging can be used to diagnose numerous diseases, such as heart attack, problems with ventricular function, obstruction of the urinary tract, problems with kidney function, thyroid disease, many types of cancer and metastasis of cancer, bone disease, epilepsy, and many more that are focused on specific organs. Nuclear imaging can help specify disease, such as hypothyroidism instead of thyroiditis. Nuclear medicine can effectively treat certain organ-specific diseases, such as the use of radioactive iodine for hypothyroidism or thyroid cancer, Yttrium-90 sphere for liver tumors, Radium-223 dichloride to manage bone pain due to metastasis of prostate cancer, etc.
-Nuclear medicine is noninvasive. Except for intravenous injections, it is usually painless.
-Nuclear medicine exams provide unique information that is often unattainable using other imaging procedures. This information may include details on the function and anatomy of body structures.
-A nuclear medicine scan is less expensive and may yield more precise information than exploratory surgery.
-Nuclear medicine offers the potential to identify diseases in its earliest stage, often before symptoms occur or abnormalities can be detected with other diagnostic tests.
-By detecting whether lesions are likely benign or malignant, PET scans may eliminate the need for surgical biopsy or identify the best biopsy location. PET scans may provide additional information that is used for radiation therapy planning.
-Because nuclear medicine exams use only a small dose of radiotracer, they have a relatively low radiation exposure. This is acceptable for diagnostic exams. Thus, the potential benefits of an exam outweigh the very low radiation risk.
-Allergic reactions to radiotracers are extremely rare and usually mild. Always tell the nuclear medicine personnel about any allergies you may have. Describe any problems you may have had during previous nuclear medicine exams.
-The radiotracer injection may cause slight pain and redness, but this should rapidly resolve.
-Women should always tell their doctor and radiology technologist if there is any possibility that they are pregnant, or they are breastfeeding.
Nuclear imaging begins with the administration of a radioactive substance (radiopharmaceutical or radioactive tracer) through injection, mouth, or inhalation. The right type of radioactive substance must be used for the organ being examined. The radioactive substance will enter the body and collect at the site of the disease or the organ being examined and will give off radiation. This radiation cannot be seen without proper equipment. Radiation will show both the normal and abnormal locations in the body. A special imaging device is used that captures radiation, records it as light symbols, and creates images of the different parts of the body through the calculations of the computer. The radiologist can then interpret these images. The length of time for the test depends on the type of test. Scanning can take 20 minutes to several hours, and some tests may be done over a period of a couple days.
If you are a woman, be sure to discuss with your doctor if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Be sure to discuss about any medications you are taking, including vitamins and herbal supplements. List any allergies, recent illnesses, and other medical conditions. Besides this, there is not any thing special that you should prepare for your exam. Leave jewelry and accessories at home or remove them prior to the exam. These objects may interfere with the procedure. Your doctor will tell you how to prepare for your specific exam.
Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, you may resume your normal activities after your exam. A technologist, nurse, or doctor will provide you with any necessary special instructions before you leave. The small amount of radiotracer in your body will lose its radioactivity over time through the natural process of radioactive decay. It may also pass out of your body through your urine or stool during the first few hours or days after the test. Drink plenty of water to help flush the material out of your body.
Nuclear medicine has minimal risks, complications, and side effects as the radiopharmaceutical usually contains substances that we are normally exposed to anyway. The amount of radiopharmaceutical used for the procedure is carefully controlled to be as safe as possible by a radiologist and nuclear medicine technologist. If you become pregnant or think you might be pregnant within 30 days after the procedure, please contact your doctor or nurse to calculate the amount of radiation your fetus has been exposed to.
What are the travel recommendations?
It is not recommended that you bring any children or pregnant women with you. The radiopharmaceutical will be absorbed and the excess removed from your body within 10-48 hours depend on type of radiopharmaceuticals. Most nuclear imaging uses radioactive substances that leave the body quickly. In case of pregnant women or women who are breastfeeding should stop at least 3 days after examination depend on type of radiopharmaceuticals.
Is the test painful?
Some patients will need the nuclear material injected through an IV, but other than that the test is not painful.
How long after radioiodine treatment is it safe to become pregnant or father a child?
Women are recommended to avoid pregnancy for at least 6 months following radioiodine treatment. Men are advised to avoid fathering a child for several months following radioiodine therapy.
Can I breastfeed following radioiodine treatment?
Breast feeding must stop before starting radioiodine treatment as there is a risk of damaging the infant’s thyroid causing permanent hypothyroidism and increasing the risk of thyroid cancer.