Nuclear medicine is a division of Diagnostic Imaging that is used to evaluate both anatomy and organ system function. It helps us gather medical information that may otherwise be unavailable, and can help replace or suggest surgery. Nuclear medicine can also replace more expensive diagnostic tests, and is often utilized to complement conventional anatomic imaging.
Nuclear medicine tests can identify abnormalities very early in the progression of a disease – long before they would be apparent with other diagnostic tests. This early detection allows a disease to be treated early in its course, when there may be a more successful prognosis.
The testing typically involves the injection of a very small, safe amount of a radiopharmaceutical that is specific to each test. Radiopharmaceuticals are substances that are attracted to specific organs, bones, or tissues. They emit gamma rays which can be detected by special types of cameras. The images are then displayed and analyzed. There is not a major organ system that cannot be imaged by nuclear medicine. It will most commonly be used to check the heart, kidneys, liver, gall bladder, thyroid gland, and gastrointestinal system.