Nuclear medicine is a specialty of medicine which utilizes “tracers” that are radioactive in order to assess functions of the human body. Tracers are also used to facilitate accurate diagnoses and beneficial treatment plans. With nuclear medicine. cameras which are custom-designed give physicians the power to track the pathways of tracers within the body.
There are two primary forms of nuclear medicine imaging modalities and they are Positron Emission Tomography (PET scans) and Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT).
These tracers are composed of “carrier molecules” which bind tightly to radioactive atoms. The molecules vary based on the type of imaging scan that is being performed. Certain tracers use molecules which interact with particular forms of sugar (or protein) that is already present in the body. Some tracers interact with the cells of the patient.
In general, with this type of medicine, patients are administered radioactive tracers via IV. In some cases, these radioactive tracers are ingested orally, administered via inhalation or injected directly into body organs. How radioactive tracers are administered depends on the disease process which is being investigated.
This type of medical imaging is relied upon for diagnosing and determining how severe certain diseases are. For example, it’s used to diagnose and “stage” cancers. As well, it’s used to diagnose and determine how severe neurological disorders, endocrine system problems, gastrointestinal health issues and heart disease are. It is also utilized in order to diagnose other types of body abnormalities and their degree of severity.
Radiation exposure is the key concern with all forms of radiology, including nuclear medicine. The dose of radioactive materials which is utilized in nuclear medicine imaging scans will vary based on the type of scan which is being performed. Usually, the amount of radiopharmaceutical material which is administered to the patient is not large. People who get these scans will be exposed to levels of radiation which are low while the scans are being done.
The low levels of radiation that patients are exposed to during nuclear medicine imaging scans are considered to be a benefit by most medical experts, rather than a drawback. This ultra-modern form of imaging keeps patients safer in terms of radiation exposure. However, doctors will always weigh the pros and cons of this type of procedure on a patient-by-patient basis. For many patients, the benefits do greatly outweigh the risk.