Nuclear medicine, as a subspecialty of radiology, is unique in its approach to imaging. As opposed to conventional x-ray or CT which use external radiation passed through the body to create images, nuclear medicine uses an "inward out" approach by introducing a small amount of radiation attached to a medication known as radiopharmaceutical. The radiopharmaceutical can be given by IV, mouth, or inhaled depending on the study and is distributed in target areas of the body. By emitting radiation for a relatively short amount of time, specialized cameras are used to create images for diagnosing many diseases and observing the function of many internal organs.
Nuclear medicine studies are safe, painless, and cost effective. There are many different types of studies your physician may order depending on your specific clinical symptoms. Some examples include tests to evaluate:
- The function of your thyroid gland, parathyroid glands, kidneys, bones, and heart ·
- The emptying of your stomach and gallbladder ·
- The presence of blood clots that have traveled to your lungs (pulmonary embolus) ·
- Your treatment options, prognosis, and response to therapy for multiple types of cancer ·
- Specific tumors such as lymphoma in the brain, carcinoid, pancreas and adrenal tumors, and prostate tumors.
Nuclear medicine can also provide treatment/therapy in certain diseases eliminating the need for more extensive and invasive therapies. Some therapeutic examples include treating overactive thyroid, thyroid cancer, certain types of lymphoma, and bone pain from certain types of cancer that have spread to the bone.
A useful resource to answer some of your additional questions can be found at: http://interactive.snm.org/docs/whatisnucmed2.pdf