Patient Guide for Nuclear Medicine


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.

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. 

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Question about Your Exam?

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