Nuclear medicine uses very small amounts of radioactive chemicals or drugs to diagnose and treat disease. These radioactive drugs are substances that are attracted to specific organs, bones or tissues. This targeted approach to treatment has fewer side effects than traditional radiation or chemotherapy.
The drugs used in nuclear medicine give off gamma rays, which can be seen by using a special camera. A technologist will use this camera to take images and videos of the organ or tissue that your doctor needs to see.
Nuclear medicine scans have the following in common:
- They all use a version of a Gamma Camera, or SPECT camera, to take images
- The level of radioactivity used is extremely low and has no side effects
- Each scan requires two steps, sometimes two visits — first an injection, then the actual scan
- You may be given a laxative to take before the second visit
- If the scan was not complete, you may be required to return for another imaging session
Safety and Preparation
The level of radioactivity used is extremely low. You can usually return to your normal life immediately. Other safety and preparations you should know:
- Most nuclear medicine scans take about two hours.
- Different types of scans have different steps you need to take to prepare. A coordinator will call you before your appointment with specific instructions for your exam.
- Please arrive at least 30 minutes early for your nuclear medicine scan.
- You may require multiple visits and multiple scans.
Theranostics: Diagnose & Treat Disease
Theranostics are drugs that both diagnose and treat disease. With just one injection, your physician can see if a tumor or cancer cells are present. That same injection also delivers targeted radiation treatment to shrink those tumor or cancer cells.
This targeted approach to treatment has fewer side effects than traditional radiation or chemotherapy.
UVA Health offers:
Radioactive medicine (lutetium Lu 177 dotatate) to treat neuroendocrine tumors
Radioactive injection (radium Ra 223 dichloride) to relieve bone pain when prostate cancer has spread to the bone
Radioactive iodine for thyroid disorders
Yttrium-90 — a liver-directed therapy
- Endocrine system
- Gastrointestinal system
- Hepatobiliary system
- Lymphoscintigraphy Lymphomas
- Pediatric patients
- Renal system
For questions regarding your nuclear medicine exam, please contact: