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Nuclear Medicine

Nuclear medicine uses radiation to provide information about a patient’s anatomy and the functioning of specific organs.

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Nuclear Medicine General Questions

What is nuclear medicine?

Nuclear medicine uses radiation to provide information about a patient’s anatomy and the functioning of specific organs. This information enables referrers to diagnose conditions quickly and accurately, such as cancer, heart disease, thyroid disorders and bone fractures.

Is nuclear medicine safe?

Nuclear medicine is extremely safe because the radioactive tracers or radiopharmaceuticals commonly used are quickly eliminated from the body through natural functions. In addition, the tracers used rapidly lose their radioactivity.

In most cases, the radiation dose necessary for a scan is tiny. For example, a patient having a lung scan is exposed to the same radiation dose they would receive from two return air flights between Sydney and London.

When is a scan needed?

There is about a one in two chance of an Australian needing a nuclear medicine scan during their lifetime. Scans using radiopharmaceuticals can diagnose all sorts of conditions. Scans of the heart, thyroid, lungs and kidney are common, but most scans involve the skeleton. These are usually carried out to diagnose infection, tumour spread, fractures, or sports injuries.

Patient Guide & FAQs

Do I need to prepare for my exam?

Some tests may require special preparation. As with other tests, if you’re pregnant or think you may be pregnant or breastfeeding, you must tell your physician. Please ensure you read all the material given to you before your appointment.

How do I receive my radiopharmaceutical before my scan?

Before you undergo a scan, we give you a radiopharmaceutical either by injection into a vein, by mouth or through a breathing device. The radiopharmaceutical will concentrate in the particular part of your body under investigation.

Sometimes, you may have to wait for a few hours or even a day or two after we administer the radiopharmaceutical for the scan to be done. This is because it may take a while for the radiopharmaceutical to lodge in the part of your body we will examine. In addition, as the radiopharmaceutical travels, it continuously releases invisible radiation, known as gamma rays.

What can I expect when I have a scan?

Our technicians use a special camera called a gamma camera to detect the radiopharmaceutical’s location in your body. During your appointment, we position the camera close to the part of your body being scanned, and our computers enhance the camera’s images on a screen. We preserve the images online for further study by doctors who can tell if the part of your body being tested is functioning normally.

Will it hurt?

No. A scan involves nothing more painful than an injection into a vein.

Are there different types of scans?

If your doctor refers you for a nuclear medicine scan, we will use one of two imaging methods.

PLANAR imaging

This is the most common of the two methods. It involves injecting a small amount of a chemical substance tagged with a radioactive tracer into the body. Depending on the chemical substance used, the radiopharmaceutical concentrates in the part of the body being investigated (for example, the skeleton, lungs, heart or liver) and gives off gamma rays. A gamma camera produces a two-dimensional image of the radioactivity occurring in that organ.

SPECT imaging

SPECT, or single photon emission computed tomography, is also widely used. The radioactive tracer injection process is the same as the PLANAR technique. The gamma camera moves around the body, providing a series of images. This takes around 30 minutes. SPECT and PLANAR imaging are highly convenient technologies as they use radiopharmaceuticals, which can be easily distributed, stored and mixed ready for use at nuclear medicine clinics and hospitals across Australia.

Who carries out nuclear medicine procedures?

If your referrer recommends you for a scan, they will place you in the care of our specially trained professional team, who will ensure that your referrer is provided with accurate reports on your condition.

What happens after a scan?

Our specially trained team will report on the scan’s appearance and send the results to your referrer to evaluate, together with those of any other test you may have had. In most cases, you’ll be able to continue your daily lifestyle as usual.

What are the benefits of nuclear medicine?

Nuclear medicine enables referrers to provide a quick and accurate diagnosis for various conditions and diseases at any age. In turn, this allows the appropriate treatment to begin as early as possible, which gives a far greater chance of being fully effective.

In addition, the tests are painless, and most scans expose patients to only a minimum of radiation. It’s the only way to examine whether some tissues are functioning correctly.

Nuclear medicine is a vital part of healthcare as it allows many people to continue living full and healthy lives.

For more information, we recommend reading our blog, An Inside Look at Nuclear Medicine.

Our nuclear medicine locations

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