Nuclear Medicine

Nuclear medicine is a branch of radiology that is unique among other imaging modalities. It gives your physician valuable functional information about the tissues, not simply their structures, as with some other modalities. A conventional X-ray image is acquired by passing a radioactive beam through a patient's body, whereas a nuclear medicine procedure utilizes radioactive materials or radionuclides to help in the diagnosis and treatment of disease. These radionuclides are introduced into the patient's body and travel to a particular target organ/tissue

Radionuclides are most often injected into a vein, but certain one may be administered orally or inhaled in the form of a gas. A specialized piece of equipment called a Gamma Camera is utilized to detect the emission of the radionuclide's Gamma rays and image the distribution of the radionuclide within the body. The images may be acquired in the form of two-dimensional (PLANAR) or three-dimensional (SPECT) images.

Certain procedures utilize a radioactive counter to quantify the amount of radionuclide absorbed by the target organ (e.g., Thyroid Uptake Measurement). In other procedures, a surgeon utilizes a radioactive probe to detect and localize the distribution of the radionuclide inter-operatively (i.e., Lymphyscintigraphy or Sentinel Node Mapping for breast cancer or melanoma).

The radionuclides are dispensed by trained, licensed nuclear pharmacists, and these procedures are performed by specially trained nuclear medicine technologists, licensed by the State of Massachusetts, under the supervision of a physician with specific training in nuclear medicine.

Common Uses of Nuclear Medicine Procedures

Detection of:

  • Coronary Artery Disease - left ventricular function
  • Tumor Localization
  • Infection Imaging/Localization
  • Thyroid Diseases
  • Lung Diseases such as Pulmonary Emboli (blood clots in the lungs)
  • Differential Renal (Kidney) Function
  • Orthopedic Applications - Detection of fractures, bone tumors or infections of the bone (Osteomyelitis)
  • Acute Gastro - Intestinal Bleed Localization
  • Acute Cholecystitis (Gall Bladder Inflammation)
  • Urinary Tract Diseases including Obstruction and Reflux
  • Treatment for Hyperthyroidism (Grave's Disease)


The field of nuclear medicine has been around for more than 60 years and has a long track record of providing safe, uniquely valuable, functional information to your physician. The Society of Nuclear Medicine estimates that approximately 16 million Nuclear Medicine procedures are performed each year in the United States, with millions more performed worldwide.

The amount of radiation exposure the patient receives from a diagnostic nuclear medicine procedure is comparable to other imaging modalities utilizing radiation. Your physician considers the minimal risk associated with the small amount of radiation exposure and weighs that against the very valuable information gained. If you have any questions or concerns, you should not hesitate to ask you primary care physician, the nuclear medicine technologist or the nuclear medicine physician.

Women of childbearing age should alert their physician or the nuclear medicine technologist prior to any diagnostic or therapeutic procedures involving radiation, if they are pregnant or believe they might be pregnant. A discussion of the risks and benefits of the procedure as well as any possible alternate procedures will help to identify the best course of treatment.

If a woman is breastfeeding, she may be asked to discontinue for a specified amount of time, usually several hours to several days, depending on the radionuclide and the procedure. Again, it is important to notify the nuclear medicine technologist or physician prior to the initiation of the procedure.