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Nuclear Medicine

In conventional X-ray or CT examinations, the radiation comes out of a machine and then passes through the patient's body. Nuclear medicine exams, however, use the opposite approach: a radioactive material is introduced into the patient's body (usually by injection), and is then detected by a machine called a gamma camera.

You may be thinking "that sounds pretty risky."

Actually, the radioactive materials used have very short half-lives, which means that they decay rapidly into a harmless material. Often, the injected radioactive material is only inside the body for a very short time, and the total dose of radiation is small -- similar, and sometimes even less than, many other kinds of X-ray procedures. About twelve million nuclear medicine exams are performed every year in the United States.

Why not just get a regular X-ray?

X-rays and nuclear medicine scans provide different information. X-rays produce a structural image of an organ -- in other words, they tell us what the organ looks like. On the other hand, nuclear scans image organ function. That is, they can tell us what part of an organ is working properly, and what part is not. For example, in one kind of nuclear scan called bone imaging, the bone metabolism changes caused by trauma, infection or invasion by tumor may be seen weeks or months before an abnormality is seen with X-rays.

Another example of imaging physiology is a new type of study available at the Rochester Medical Center, Single Photon Emission Tomography, also known as a “SPECT” scan. SPECT scans use a radiotracer to look for areas of increased metabolic activity that is characteristic of viable tissue. While the tissue may look normal on a CT scan or MRI, the SPECT scan may find changes in  metabolic activity in the tissue, suggesting it is not normal.

There is a wide range of exams performed in nuclear medicine. Please consult the following sections for the individual details and how to prepare for an exam.

bulletBone Scans
bulletGallium Scans
bulletExercise Mibi Scans (Cardiolyte Spect Stress Tests)
bulletMUGA Scans (Radionuclide Ventriculograms)
bulletSchilling Tests
bulletThyroid Scan and Uptake
bulletSentinel Node Scintigraphy (Lymphoscintigraphy)


Interactive Nuclear Stress Test: To Learn More