Nuclear Medicine

Detailed Imaging Techniques

Nuclear Medicine uses minute amounts of radioactive materials, called tracers or radiopharmaceuticals, to help diagnose and treat a variety of diseases. While conventional X-rays reveal the structural appearance of an organ or bone, nuclear medicine studies its function. There are many different types of tracers available, depending on the specific organ, tissue, or bone being studied.

Radiopharmaceuticals can be introduced into the body by injection, swallowing, or inhalation. During this imaging procedure, the patient is lying on a bed, with a gamma camera placed a few inches above their body. A gamma camera scans the radiation to create a series of images, allowing for the evaluation of specific physiological processes. The gamma camera is painless, quiet, and does not transmit any radiation to the patient.

Nuclear Medicine Bone Scan

A bone scan is an imaging test that can evaluate bone metabolism and identify areas where metabolic activity is somehow abnormal. Bone scans can be used to diagnose the following:

  • Unexplained skeletal pain
  • Bone infection
  • Bone injury that is undetectable on a standard X-ray
  • Bone cancer or bone metastases from other types of cancer

A bone scan can often identify a problem long before it would be detectable on a regular X-ray test.

Bone scans begin with the injection of a tracer into a vein, from where it circulates through the blood and is taken up by the bones. Images are taken two to five hours later. Test results are considered normal if the tracer is evenly distributed throughout the entire skeleton, with no areas of increased or decreased distribution. Areas where the bone cells are in the process of repairing themselves take up the largest amount of tracer, which makes them identifiable in the resulting imaging.

Preparation

Please drink several glasses of water before your first appointment. You will be asked to drink more water after your injection and to urinate frequently, to keep the tracer from collecting in your bladder. Any radiation that is not taken up by the bones is quickly excreted in the urine. Nearly all radiation is gone from the body within two to three days. Tell your doctor and the technologist if you are nursing, pregnant, or even think you may be pregnant. Bone scans are not usually performed on pregnant women or nursing mothers.