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What is a Nuclear Medicine Scan?

A nuclear medicine scan is a type of exam that uses radiation to help doctors evaluate physiology and function as well as anatomy and to detect disease, inflammation, or infection throughout the body. No other radiology test can more accurately measure the function of the gallbladder or kidneys, or detect certain types of cancer.

Nuclear medicine scans work differently than x-ray and CT scan procedures, which introduce radiation by beaming it into your body from the outside. When you have a nuclear medicine scan, you will be injected with a radiopharmaceutical —a drug that contains a weak dose of radiation to trace the disease’s path—and then a special camera will be placed near your body to take a picture of the area being examined.

As with all procedures that use radiation, you will receive the smallest dose required for your exam. Years of research have proven that the small amount used poses little risk to your health. Your body will remove all of the radioactive materials within a few days. 

Why Doctors Recommend Nuclear Medicine Scans? 

Doctors may request nuclear medicine scans to diagnose, or rule out, conditions such as: 
  • Cancer
  • Arthritis
  • Infections
  • Internal bleeding
  • Blood clots
  • Gallbladder disease
Other problems may involve the heart, liver, bones, or thyroid. In addition, some treatments may require that you undergo repeat scans to determine how you are responding.

What Happens During a Nuclear Medicine Scan?

Depending on the area being examined, you may be asked to drink water or refrain from eating before the test.

At the beginning of the procedure, a radioactive substance will be introduced into your body through an injection. Depending on the exam and substance given, you may have to wait as little as a few hours or as long as several days before you have the exam. Different substances take different amounts of time to travel through the body and gather at the organ being studied. 

For the scan, you will lie on a table under a camera mounted on a structure called a gantry. The scanning camera may rotate around your body or stay in one place for a period of time. You should remain as still as possible throughout the scan to help ensure that your images are accurate. 

The camera sends information to a computer, which then creates an image of the organ being studied. Based on this information, the technician may move the camera to help improve the imaging. 

How long will the Nuclear Medicine Scan take?

In general, nuclear medicine scans take from 20 to 45 minutes. A doctor who has specialized training in nuclear medicine will review the images and send a report to the doctor who requested the scan. This doctor will discuss the results with you. 

Nuclear Medicine Scan Patient Preparation

Below are the instructions to prepare patients for a Nuclear Medicine scan.

Fully Accredited By The ACR
White-Wilson Medical Center is fully accredited by the American College of Radiology.


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