Nuclear Medicine

Safe, comfortable, accurate nuclear medicine testing

Nuclear medicine uses small, safe amounts of radioactive material and a special camera to produce pictures from inside your body for your healthcare provider to review. Nuclear medicine shows the structure and function inside your body and is especially useful for diagnosing physiological conditions and certain types of cancer.

Overview

Nuclear medicine uses small, safe amounts of radioactive material and a special camera to produce pictures from inside your body for your healthcare provider to review. Nuclear medicine shows the structure and function inside your body and is especially useful for diagnosing physiological conditions and certain types of cancer.

Radioactive Material Highlights an Area Inside of You

A nuclear medicine test is usually painless and begins with an injection of a radioactive material. Sometimes you are asked to swallow or inhale the radioactive substance instead. You may need to wait while the material travels to the area of your body being checked.

Once that has happened, the technologist uses a special camera to take pictures. The camera finds the radioactive material in your body and shows what’s going on in that area of your body. You must remain still when the camera is taking pictures.

Nuclear medicine testing may take as long as a few hours. Your doctor discusses this with you before your appointment so you know if you need to avoid food and drink beforehand.

Reasons You Might Have Nuclear Medicine

Nuclear medicine is used for reasons including:

  • To check how your heart is functioning
  • To check your bones for breaks, tumors or arthritis
  • To locate cancer and decide which stage it is (size of tumors and whether they have spread)
  • To treat thyroid cancer
  • To combine with other types of imaging, including PET, CT and MRI for more specialized exams

Often, nuclear medicine helps your healthcare providers find problems early in the process of a disease when you can be treated most effectively.

What To Expect

Radioactive Material Highlights an Area Inside of You

A nuclear medicine test is usually painless and begins with an injection of a radioactive material. Sometimes you are asked to swallow or inhale the radioactive substance instead. You may need to wait while the material travels to the area of your body being checked.

Once that has happened, the technologist uses a special camera to take pictures. The camera finds the radioactive material in your body and shows what’s going on in that area of your body. You must remain still when the camera is taking pictures.

Nuclear medicine testing may take as long as a few hours. Your doctor discusses this with you before your appointment so you know if you need to avoid food and drink beforehand.

Reasons You Might Have Nuclear Medicine

Nuclear medicine is used for reasons including:

  • To check how your heart is functioning
  • To check your bones for breaks, tumors or arthritis
  • To locate cancer and decide which stage it is (size of tumors and whether they have spread)
  • To treat thyroid cancer
  • To combine with other types of imaging, including PET, CT and MRI for more specialized exams

Often, nuclear medicine helps your healthcare providers find problems early in the process of a disease when you can be treated most effectively.

Your healthcare provider tells you in advance if you need to avoid eating or drinking before a nuclear medicine test. Be sure to wear comfortable, loose clothing. You may be asked to remove jewelry and to change into a gown for the test.

Tell your provider if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Preparing For Nuclear Medicine

Your healthcare provider tells you in advance if you need to avoid eating or drinking before a nuclear medicine test. Be sure to wear comfortable, loose clothing. You may be asked to remove jewelry and to change into a gown for the test.

Tell your provider if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

You usually can go back to normal activities after a nuclear medicine exam. Your doctor tells you if that is not the case or about any special instructions, including drinking plenty of water to help flush the radioactive material out of your system.

After Your Procedure

You usually can go back to normal activities after a nuclear medicine exam. Your doctor tells you if that is not the case or about any special instructions, including drinking plenty of water to help flush the radioactive material out of your system.

Be sure to write down in advance the questions you want to ask your provider so you don’t forget them at your appointment.

  • How long can I expect to be at IU Health for this test?
  • Will I feel the tracer going throughout my body?
  • How long does it take for the tracer to get out of my system?
  • Will I notice the tracer being in my system or when it exits? When and how will I get the results of my test?

​Questions to Ask Your Provider​

Be sure to write down in advance the questions you want to ask your provider so you don’t forget them at your appointment.

  • How long can I expect to be at IU Health for this test?
  • Will I feel the tracer going throughout my body?
  • How long does it take for the tracer to get out of my system?
  • Will I notice the tracer being in my system or when it exits? When and how will I get the results of my test?

Patient Stories for Nuclear Medicine

RadiologyInfo.org

The American College of Radiology and Radiological Society of North American includes extensive information about the many uses of nuclear medicine and has links to additional resources.

Cancer.net

The American Society of Clinical Oncology features education about the use of PET-CT for diagnosing and staging cancer.

Resources

RadiologyInfo.org

The American College of Radiology and Radiological Society of North American includes extensive information about the many uses of nuclear medicine and has links to additional resources.

Cancer.net

The American Society of Clinical Oncology features education about the use of PET-CT for diagnosing and staging cancer.