Nuclear Medicine is the branch of medical imaging that uses special radiopharmaceuticals to enable doctors to diagnose various conditions, and sometimes treat disease.
Radiopharmaceuticals are substances that are attracted to specific parts of the body, and highlight the way that certain organs function, rather than what they look or are shaped like.
All Dr Jones & Partners Nuclear Medicine scanners have technology called SPECT/CT that combine a state of the art NM camera with the ability to perform low dose CT.
This allows fusion of structural and functional information in the one study and has greatly increased the diagnostic usefulness of this discipline.
In most cases no preparation is required. When you make your appointment the staff will discuss any preparation necessary. If you are breast feeding, pregnant or possibly pregnant, you should ask to speak with the nuclear medicine technologist as this may influence the timing and type of test recommended. In addition, certain drugs may alter the results of a test and may have to be stopped for a few days prior to the examination. This applies particularly to scanning of the kidneys, stomach and bowel. Again, this would be discussed at the time of making your appointment
During the Test
During the procedure you will be given a small dose of radiopharmaceutical. The specific substance and the method of its delivery (whether it be by injection into a vein, through a breathing apparatus or by mouth) depends on which particular NM test you are having, although most commonly it involves a small injection into a vein, like having a blood test. The substance administered will go to a specific organ or part of the body (e.g., kidneys or bone).
Sometime after administration of the radiopharmaceutical, a device called a gamma camera will be placed near your body next to the organ being examined to produce the images. The exact timing of this depends on the particular test. For example, the thyroid gland is scanned approximately 20 minutes after administration of the substance, whereas for a bone scan you will be asked to return between 2 to 4 hours after the injection during which time the radiopharmaceutical will have been taken up by the bones. Occasionally some tests may require returning on an additional day for images.
After the Test
Most Nuclear Medicine tests have no ongoing considerations after you have completed the procedure. If you have a procedure where there is aftercare to follow, instructions will be given once the test has been completed.
The injection does not hurt and there is no iodine in it so you should not have any flushing or funny feelings. Side effects such as nausea, vomiting or a rash are very uncommon, occurring in approximately 1 in 10,000 people. After the procedure you are able to drive a car and eat and drink normally.
Does it matter if I am pregnant or breastfeeding?
Yes. If there is a possibility of pregnancy we prefer to delay the test unless it is absolutely necessary. Some of the tests may need to be changed if you are breastfeeding or you may need to avoid breast feeding for up to 6 – 8 hours after the test. Please tell us when you make your booking and we will discuss it with you.
How long will I have the radiopharmaceutical in me?
The radiopharmaceuticals break down by themselves in a short time. Most are undetectable within 24 – 36 hours. The total radiation dose is similar to or less than other imaging procedures such as CT scans.
This also varies from scan to scan. Normally there is a delay between the injection and the scan that can range from several minutes to several hours and rarely to several days. For a bone scan, you have an injection in the morning and then are asked to come back 2 to 4 hours later for the scan. The NM specialist will then examine the films and send a report to your doctor.
Will I glow in the dark?
Absolutely not! There is only a very small amount of radioactivity in the injection and this disappears fairly quickly. After the scan, you do not have to take any precautions at all, except to avoid prolonged close contact with pregnant women or young children for several hours.