Nuclear Medicine Fact Sheet

Posted by Rachel Masey

Mon, Oct 8, 2012 @ 09:42 AM

What is nuclear medicine?
Nuclear medicine specialists use safe, painless, and cost-effective techniques to image the body and treat disease. Nuclear medicine imaging is unique, because it provides doctors with information about both structure and function. It is a way to gather medical information that would otherwise be unavailable, require surgery, or necessitate more expensive diagnostic tests. Nuclear medicine imaging procedures often identify abnormalities very early in the progress of a disease long before many medical problems are apparent with other diagnostic tests. Nuclear medicine uses very small amounts of radioactive materials (radiopharmaceuticals) to diagnose and treat disease. In imaging, the radiopharmaceuticals are detected by special types of cameras that work with computers to provide very precise pictures about the area of the body being imaged. In treatment, the radiopharmaceuticals go directly to the organ being treated.

What is PET?
Positron Emission Tomography (PET) is a major diagnostic imaging modality used in determining the presence and severity of cancers, neurological conditions, and cardiovascular disease. It is currently the most effective way to check for cancer recurrences. PET images demonstrate the chemistry of organs and other tissues such as tumors. A radiopharmaceutical, such as FDG fluorodeoxyglucose), which includes both sugar (glucose) and a radionuclide (a radioactive element) that gives off signals, is injected into the patient, and its emissions are measured by a PET scanner.
What do nuclear medicine professionals do?
A nuclear medicine technologist is a highly skilled professional who performs nuclear medicine examinations using specialized equipment to produce high-quality images of structures inside the human body. After the examination, the technologist reviews the images and the patient’s history with a physician trained in the interpretation of nuclear medicine procedures that renders a final diagnosis. Both physicians and technologists are supported by specially trained physicists and pharmacists who ensure the reliability and quality of the instruments and safety of the radiopharmaceuticals used in the performance of nuclear medicine exams.

How do I know if I am receiving high-quality care?
Ask if your nuclear medicine technologist is certified. Certified technologists have demonstrated that they have specific training and experience to perform a nuclear medicine examination accurately. In order to maintain their certification, technologists are required to earn continuing medical education credits each year, which helps ensure that they are current with nuclear medicine technology and patient care skills. Ask if the nuclear medicine practice you are visiting is accredited. Practices that have obtained accreditation have demonstrated competency in every aspect of their operation, including the education and training of doctors and technologists, nuclear medicine equipment, document storage, policies safeguarding patients, and accuracy in diagnosis.

How safe are nuclear medicine procedures?
Nuclear medicine procedures are among the safest diagnostic imaging exams available. To obtain diagnostic information, a patient is given a very small amount of a radiopharmaceutical. Because such a small amount is used, the amount of radiation received from a nuclear medicine procedure is comparable with that received during a diagnostic x-ray. The nuclear medicine team will carefully perform the most appropriate examination for the patient’s particular medical problem and thereby avoid any unnecessary radiation exposure.