Nuclear medicine is a medical specialty dedicated to the diagnosis, management, and treatment of serious disease. Nuclear Medicine studies document organ structure and function, which differs from conventional radiology (CT, MRI, ultrasound, X-ray, etc.) which mainly focus on anatomy. Additionally, nuclear medicine pharmaceuticals can be used in the treatment or therapy of various cancers and disease processes.
Nuclear medicine uses radioactive materials known as radiopharmaceuticals or tracers to diagnose and treat disease. Radiopharmaceuticals are substances that have been designed to function normally in the human body, but are tagged with a radioactive material allowing assessment or treatment of the disease process in question. The radiopharmaceuticals used in Nuclear Medicine emit gamma-rays that can be detected externally by special cameras, or they emit beta radiation for the therapeutic treatment of disease. Nuclear medicine cameras do not emit any radiation. They are detectors that capture the gamma rays coming from the patient. Generally, the amount of radiation from a nuclear medicine procedure is equivalent to that received during a diagnostic X-ray.
Nuclear medicine offers a broad spectrum of medical procedures that encompass every major organ system. In fact, there are nearly one hundred different nuclear medicine tests and therapies available. Nuclear medicine studies can measure the degree of organ function, eliminating the need for other more expensive and more invasive tests or surgeries. Nuclear medicine procedures often provide the physician with important information to detect and treat disease early in its course.