Diagnostic Imaging Scans/Tests:
Nuclear Medicine - Frequently Asked Questions
Nuclear medicine is a medical specialty dedicated to the diagnosis, management, treatment, and prevention of serious diseases. Nuclear medicine studies focus mainly on anatomy, document organ structure and function.
Additionally, nuclear medicine pharmaceuticals can be used in the treatment or therapy of various cancers and disease processes.
Nuclear medicine procedures are very safe. The pharmaceutical (tracer) used and the radiation dose given are carefully selected to ensure the minimum radiation exposure while ensuring the accuracy of the test.
A radiopharmaceutical or tracer is a specially designed drug that is bound to radioactive material. Tracers are designed to act like natural products in the body allowing nuclear medicine tests to look at how the body is working. Tracers are designed to look at very specific organ functions.
The amount of radiation in a nuclear medicine test is about the same as you would receive from a diagnostic X-ray. The radiopharmaceuticals administered are not dyes and do not cause reactions.
A Nuclear Medicine Technologist performs the nuclear medicine test. These are specially trained health care professionals who have direct experience in the theory and practice of nuclear medicine.
The Nuclear Medicine Technologist’s duties include:
- tracer preparation
- camera operation
- explaining the test to the patient
- answering patient questions
- ensuring proper radiation handling
- tracer administration
- patient positioning and monitoring
- performing computer analysis
Nuclear Medicine tests are designed to monitor normal processes in the body. Tracers are made to act as naturally as possible. Therefore, there is a minimal possibility of side effects. Tests that involve the use of other non-radioactive drugs may have a slight possibility of side effects, which will be explained to you by the technologist performing your test.
The radiation doses administered are carefully monitored for safety and pose no more risk than an X-ray. These tests do not discolour your urine, make you tired, affect your ability to drive, or make you glow in the dark.
If you are entering the United States following a Nuclear Medicine procedure you will be detected by the radiation detectors located at the border crossing. For most procedures, you will be detectable for up to 3 days following your test and with some procedures (Iodine-131 Whole Body, Gallium Scan, Octreoscan, etc.) you may be detectable for a few months.
If you plan on or think you might be entering the United States following your procedure please let the technologist know and they can provide you with a letter confirming you underwent a procedure that involved the injection of radioactive material.
Nuclear Medicine tests are non-invasive. Some tests involve ingesting a tracer, inhaling a tracer, or require an intravenous injection of the tracer for imaging.
The only thing that may hurt is if the tracer is injected into a vein, which is no worse than having your blood taken. Almost all tests involve the patient lying on a bed for pictures.
The amount of time depends on the type of procedure you are having.
Once the test is completed you are free to resume your normal activities. If you have any questions about taking your medications you should consult your doctor.
Your doctor should have our test results in about one week.
Source: St. Michael’s Hospital