Overview

Nuclear medicine is a medical specialty that uses very small amounts of radioactive materials (radiopharmaceuticals) to produce images to diagnose and manage disease. Nuclear medicine provides unique information about both the structure and the function of major organ systems within the body that other body imaging technologies cannot. Unlike x-ray, ultrasound, MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), or CT (Computed Tomography), which determines the presence of disease based on structural appearance, nuclear medicine determines the cause of the medical problem based on the biological or molecular changes of the organ, tissue or bone.

By using safe radioactive materials to internally light up and “photograph” body organs, nuclear medicine specialists can more effectively determine if certain organs, such as the heart, brain, kidneys, liver, thyroid and lungs, are working properly. Radiopharmaceuticals go directly to the organ being targeted and are also used as treatment for hyperthyroidism, thyroid cancer, lymphoma, blood imbalances and pain relief for certain types of bone cancer. These commonly performed biological imaging procedures are an integral part of patient care, identifying abnormalities very early in the progression of a disease, often before medical problems are apparent with other diagnostic imaging tests. Such an early detection allows a disease to be treated when there may be a more successful prognosis.The easiest way to understand nuclear medicine is to think of it as the opposite of an x-ray. In an x-ray, the radiation comes from the machine and goes through you. In nuclear medicine, radiation is emitted from the body, a camera detects the radiation, and an image is created.