Nuclear medicine uses small amounts of radioactive substances called tracers, which target and show the organ of interest, in order to diagnose disease and the severity and also treat disease.
Because nuclear medicine scans pinpoint molecular activity within the body, they offer the potential to identify early-stage disease, as well as immediate response to therapeutic interventions.
A gamma camera detects and measure the gamma rays emitted by the radioactive tracer that collects in the organ over time.
Nuclear medicine provides unique functional and physiological information that your doctor will use to diagnose problems that often cannot be gained from other imaging examinations. Your doctor can use this information to implement the best health care for you.
Before a nuclear medicine scan
There is usually no special preparation before a nuclear medicine scan. The technologist may ask you to change into a gown for the scan.
If you know you are pregnant or suspect that you might be pregnant, you should tell your doctor and the technologist before the scan. You should also advise staff before the scan if you are breastfeeding. See our patient safety page for further information about pregnancy and radiation.
The length of time you need to allow for the scan will be discussed with you when you make your appointment. The technologist will explain the scan to you and give you the opportunity to ask any questions.
During a nuclear medicine scan
All Mackay Radiology nuclear medicine technologists are accredited with the Australian and New Zealand Society of Nuclear Medicine (ANZSNM) and registered with the Medical Radiation Technologists Board of Queensland.
The radioactive tracer is injected into an arm vein, or may be given orally or inhaled for some studies. You will feel a slight pinprick when the tracer is injected and you may experience a metallic taste for a short time.
You will lay on a couch and the gamma camera will be positioned over the organ of interest to acquire images. Depending on the study, it will take some time for the tracer to travel through the body and accumulate in the organ of interest. The time required for imaging will depend on the study performed. Most examinations require between 20 minutes and 40 minutes of imaging, however some scans might require 90 minutes. The technologist will ask you to remain very still to avoid any image blurring.
The radiation dose will depend on the study performed. The technologist will use the lowest dose necessary to achieve high quality images. In most cases the radiation dose is less than that received from a CT scan and is similar to what is received from a few months of background radiation from the environment.
One benefit of nuclear medicine is that the radiation dose undergoes fast decay and rapid excretion through the digestive or urinary tract.
Nuclear medicine has been performed for more that 30 years and there are no known long-term adverse effects from these low-dose scans. The risk of allergic reaction to the radioactive tracer is very low.
After a nuclear medicine scan
You might be asked to wait until the images are checked, in case additional images are needed. Occasionally, more images are obtained for more detail of the area of interest, which does not necessarily mean something abnormal was found, so don’t be concerned if this happens.
You may resume your normal activities after your nuclear medicine scan, unless your doctor tells you otherwise. You will be advised before you leave the nuclear medicine department if there are any post procedure instructions for you to follow.
One of our radiologists will interpret your nuclear scan and provide your doctor with a comprehensive report about the findings. You will need to return to the doctor who referred you to discuss your nuclear medicine results. Processing and reporting of your scan could take up to two hours. For your convenience, we can generally deliver the images and report to your doctor, by lunchtime on the next working day.
If you require the results for a follow up appointment on the day of the scan, you can wait for the films and we will fax or email the results to your doctor. Some of our referring doctors prefer that their patients wait for their films after the scan. You may arrange to collect the films at an alternative time, if you prefer that option.