Radioactive tracers are used in imaging tests that help find problems inside the body. These tracers give off particles that can be detected and turned into a picture to help find problems in organs or other structures.
The tracer is usually given through an intravenous (I.V.) line placed in a vein. But the tracer also may be given by mouth or by inhaling it into the lungs. The tracer then travels through the body and may collect in a certain organ or area.
The types of tests that use radioactive tracers include positron emission tomography (PET) and nuclear medicine scans to look at specific organs such as the liver, lungs, kidneys, and gallbladder.
Anytime you're exposed to radiation, there's a small chance of damage to cells or tissue. That's the case even with the low-level radioactive tracer used for this test. But the chance of damage is very low compared with the benefits of the test.
Most of the tracer will leave your body through your urine or stool within a day. So be sure to flush the toilet right after you use it, and wash your hands well with soap and water. The amount of radiation in the tracer is very small. This means it isn't a risk for people to be around you after the test.
Author: Healthwise Staff Clinical Review Board: All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.
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