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 Nuclear Medicine

Nuclear medicine is a type of imaging that uses very small amounts of radioactive material to diagnose and sometimes treat disease. Nuclear medicine is safe; it carries about the same risk as a common x-ray. Nuclear medicine is effective; it can help detect a wide variety of conditions such as stress fractures, cancer, heart disease, blood clots, thyroid disease, arthritis and infection.

Nuclear medicine imaging procedures are medical tests, usually painless, that help physicians diagnose medical conditions. These imaging scans use radioactive materials called radiopharmaceuticals or radiotracers to diagnose or treat a variety of diseases, including many types of cancers, heart disease, bone disorders or other abnormalities within the body.

Depending on the type of nuclear medicine exam done, a radiotracer is either injected into a vein, swallowed or inhaled as a gas and eventually accumulates in the organ or area of the body being examined.  It gives off energy in the form of gamma rays that are detected by a special device called a gamma camera. This camera works together with a computer to measure the amount of radiotracer concentrated in the area of interest and then produces special pictures giving details on both the structure and function of organs and tissues.

In some cases, nuclear medicine images can be superimposed with computed tomography (CT) to produce special views, a practice known as image fusion or co-registration. These views allow the information from two different studies to be correlated and interpreted on one image, leading to more precise information and accurate diagnoses. The lab at Sacred Heart has a single photon emission computed tomography/computed tomography (SPECT/CT) camera that is able to perform both imaging studies at the same time.

Nuclear medicine also offers therapeutic procedures, such as radioactive iodine (I-131) therapy, that use radioactive material to treat cancer and other medical conditions affecting the thyroid gland.

The Nuclear Medicine facility at Sacred Heart Medical Center is an Accredited Comprehensive Nuclear Medicine Laboratory.