Nuclear medicine is a medical specialty that uses safe, painless, and cost-effective techniques to both image the body and treat disease. Nuclear medicine imaging is unique in that it documents organ function and structure, in contrast to diagnostic radiology, which is based upon anatomy. It is a way to gather medical information that may otherwise be unavailable, require surgery, or necessitate more expensive diagnostic tests.
As an integral part of patient care, nuclear medicine is used in the diagnosis, management, treatment, and prevention of serious disease. Nuclear medicine imaging procedures often identify abnormalities very early in the progression of a disease — long before some medical problems are apparent with other diagnostic tests. This early detection allows a disease to be treated at the beginnings of its course when there may be a more successful prognosis.
Nuclear medicine uses very small amounts of radioactive materials, or radiopharmaceuticals, to help diagnose and treat disease.
Radiopharmaceuticals are attracted to specific organs, bones, or tissues. The radiopharmaceuticals used in nuclear medicine emit gamma rays that can be detected externally by special types of cameras: gamma or PET cameras. These cameras work in conjunction with computers used to form images that provide data and information about the area of body being imaged. The amount of radiation from most nuclear medicine procedures is comparable to that received during a diagnostic x-ray.
Today, nuclear medicine offers procedures that are helpful to a broad span of medical specialties, from pediatrics to cardiology to psychiatry. There are nearly 100 different nuclear medicine imaging procedures available and not a major organ system that is not imaged by nuclear medicine.