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Nuclear Medicine

Patient Guide

During a nuclear medicine procedure, a radioactive material called a radiopharmaceutical or radiotracer is injected into the bloodstream, swallowed or inhaled as a gas by the patient. This radioactive material accumulates in the organ or area of your body being examined, where it gives off a small amount of energy in the form of gamma rays. Special cameras detect this energy and create computer images of the structure and function of organs and tissues in your body.

Nuclear medicine also offers therapeutic procedures. They include radioactive iodine (I-131) therapy that use small amounts of radioactive material to treat cancer and other medical conditions as well as treatments for other cancers and medical conditions.

Prepare for Your Nuclear Medicine Exam

  • You may be asked to wear a gown during the exam or you may be allowed to wear your own clothing. You should inform your physician and the technologist performing your exam of any medications you are taking, including vitamins and herbal supplements. You should also inform them if you have any allergies and about recent illnesses or other medical conditions. Jewelry and other metallic accessories should be left at home or removed prior to the exam because they may interfere with the procedure. You will receive specific instructions based on the type of scan you need.

  • You will be positioned on an examination table. If necessary, a nurse or technologist will insert an intravenous (IV) catheter into a vein in your hand or arm. Depending on the type of nuclear medicine exam you are undergoing, the dose of radiotracer is then injected intravenously, swallowed or inhaled as a gas.

  • It can take anywhere from several seconds to several days for the radiotracer to travel through your body and accumulate in the organ or area being studied. As a result, imaging may be done immediately, a few hours later or even several days after you have received the radioactive material.

  • When it is time for the imaging to begin, the camera or scanner will take a series of images. The camera may rotate around you or it may stay in one position and you may be asked to change positions in between images. While the camera is taking pictures, you will need to remain still for brief periods of time. In some cases, the camera may move very close to your body. This is necessary to obtain the best quality images. If you are claustrophobic, you should inform the technologist before your exam begins.

  • The images obtained during your exam will be reviewed by a radiologist and a technical report will be sent to the ordering physician. Your provider will then review result with you. 


Equipment Summary

As part of an ongoing effort to offer its patients the most cutting-edge medical imaging technology Mercy Mt Shasta has acquired the Symbia Evo SPECT imaging system with an open gantry designed to maximize patient comfort and fast data acquisition. Physicians at Mercy Mt Shasta can now serve a broader range of diverse patient populations and have access to industry-leading image quality to help inform care decisions and improve patient outcomes. The Symbia Evo utilizes a high-capacity patient bed, a 30% larger bore than previous systems and highly flexible detectors. These features are optimized to accommodate larger patients or critically ill patients and increase the variety of applications physicians can offer providing comprehensive imaging configurations for general purpose, cardiology, oncology and neurology studies.


Procedure Descriptions

Bone Scan

  • Whole Body Bone Scan
  • Three Phase Bone Scan
  • Limited Area Bone Scan
  • Bone SPECT
  • Bone Marrow Scan


  • Myocardial Perfusion Rest and Stress Scan
  • MUGA Scan
  • Myocardial Infarction (MI) scan

Gastrointestinal Scans

  • HIDA (Hepatobiliary) scan with Gallbladder Ejection Fraction
  • Gastric Emptying Scan
  • GI Bleeding Scan
  • Liver/ Spleen Scan
  • Hepatic Hemangioma Scan (Liver SPECT)
  • Meckel’s Diverticulum Scan
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Scan

Genitourinary Scans

  • Renal Function Scan
  • Diuretic Renal Function Scan
  • ACE Inhibitor (Captopril) Renal Function Scan"

Head/Neck/Chest Scans 

  • Thyroid Uptake and Scan
  • Parathyroid Scan
  • Parathyroid Injection

Infection/Tumor Scans

  • Sentinel Node Injection with Lymphoscintagraphy (with imaging) 
  • Sentinel Node Injection without Lymphoscintagraphy
  • White Blood Cell Scan (Technetium 99m-HMPAO)
  • White Blood Cell Scan (Indium111 Oxime)
  • Gallium Scan
  • I-131 Whole Body Scan (Thyroid Cancer Mets Survey)
  • Adrenocortical Scan
  • Adrenal Medullary Scan (Pheochromocytoma or MIBG Scan)
  • OCTREOSCAN (Metastatic Neuroendocrine Tumor Scan)

Pulmonary Scans

  • V/Q (Ventilation-Perfusion) Scan
  • Quantitative Perfusion Only Scan


Frequently Asked Questions

How does nuclear medicine work?
The patient receives a radioactive material (isotope) in one of several ways: Intravenous injection, capsules, orally or inhaled. The isotope travels to target organs and tissues. Different isotopes are matched with different compounds that go to specific organs and tissues. The isotope gives off gamma rays, a form of radiation that can be seen only with special cameras. The cameras provide images of the target organs and tissues. These cameras do not give off any radiation. The images are studied by a nuclear medicine physician and their interpretation is forwarded to the ordering physician.

What are common procedures in nuclear medicine?
Some of the most common procedures are bone scan, Muga scan and stress test.

Will I need to do anything special before the procedure?
Each test in nuclear medicine requires special instructions. Bone scans require a patient to be well hydrated. Muga scans have no prep. Stress test requires a patient to be NPO. Some medication that you are currently on may need to be stopped for some of the test. Please confirm with the department and Nuclear Medicine Technologist for specific prep related to your procedure.

What is a bone scan, and how can it help me?
A bone scan is a nuclear medicine test that allows the doctors to see the skeleton in one picture. It is best used to define the anatomy such that, if there are any concerns about the bone, it can be seen.

What is a stress test of the heart?
A stress test will allow the doctors to look for arteries in the heart that may be blocked. The test will be done in a resting phase as well as an exercise phase which may require the patient to walk on a treadmill.

What is a MUGA scan?
A MUGA scan (multigated acquisition scan) is a nuclear medicine scan that evaluates the pumping action of the heart. It may be ordered by your doctor before starting any cancer treatment because the chemotherapy drug can weaken the heart wall muscle.

Will the radiation from the nuclear medicine test be harmful?
The amount of radiation exposure from a nuclear medicine test is very small, and the effects go away within hours of the test being completed.

How long should I expect to be at the hospital for a nuclear medicine test?
Most nuclear medicine tests require an injection, a wait time, then a scan time. Expect to be in the Radiology Department for 2-3 hours for a nuclear medicine test.