Tips & Advice
How much does a nuclear medicine scan cost?
A nuclear medicine scan may cost several thousands of dollars per procedure. This cost is usually covered - at least in part - by most health insurance plans when it is considered medically necessary.
How long does a nuclear medicine scan take?
Imaging procedures may take as little as 20 minutes, but in some cases could take more than an hour. Results are only determined after a doctor has reviewed the images, which may take a few hours or days.
Is nuclear medicine imaging painful?
The only discomfort known to arise from nuclear imaging procedures involves minor pain at the injection site if tracers are administered intravenously. Otherwise, the procedures are not painful.
Are there any dangers associated with nuclear medicine imaging?
The most significant risk of nuclear medicine procedures involves radiation exposure. While the amount of radioactivity received during a single procedure is very small, repeated exposure over many procedures may be harmful. Like with x-ray scans, nuclear medicine procedures are designed to be used only when necessary, and in a way that keeps radioactive doses as low as possible.
Beyond this, nuclear imaging procedures are considered very safe, having been in use for more than 50 years without any observable negative consequences. Very rarely, tracer compounds may cause an allergic reaction. Women are advised to inform their doctors if they might be pregnant or are nursing before undergoing a nuclear imaging procedure.
What happens during a nuclear medicine imaging scan?
First, patients will ingest the radiotracer substance in the form of a pill, intravenous injection or a gas that is inhaled. Depending on the objective of the procedure and the type of tracer used, the tracer substance can be detected in a scan within seconds or up to several days after ingesting it. The scanning equipment can either work as an open tube that patients lay inside, or can utilize one or more cameras that rotate around the patient. Subjects will usually need to remain still while the system captures an image, but may be asked to move or rotate in certain ways to capture different angles.
What is cardiac nuclear medicine?
Cardiac nuclear medicine focuses on analyzing the function of the heart and the network of arteries and veins that move blood through the body. This can be used to diagnose and allow for the treatment of conditions like coronary artery disease. The scanning procedures involved in cardiac nuclear medicine are often conducted while subjects are running or walking on a treadmill to get an accurate understanding of how the heart copes under stress.
What are the most common types of nuclear medicine imaging techniques?
Two of the most common procedures involved in nuclear medicine are:
- Positron emission tomography (PET): Uses certain radiotracers to generate three-dimensional images of organs, as well as real-time footage of physical processes within those organs. PET can be used to diagnose certain cancers and other diseases. It is also used in research on brain activity, as it can track blood flow.
- Single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT): Creates three-dimensional images similarly to PET, but in a way that can be visualized as a cross-section. SPECT can also target specific functions in the body by using tracers that will only bind to certain chemicals. SPECT is often used to diagnose various forms of cardiovascular disease.
Are there any side effects to radioactive tracers?
Large amounts of radioactive energy can damage organs and tissues, but the amount of energy released by tracers used for nuclear medicine is too low to be harmful. In a typical procedure, the dose of radioactive energy absorbed by the body is no greater than the dose from an X-ray or CT scan. Beyond that, the tracers are not known to cause any side effects when administered correctly.
What are radioactive tracers?
The tracer chemicals used in nuclear medicine are radioactive isotopes of one or more organic elements, like hydrogen, carbon or nitrogen. A radioactive isotope is an atom that gives off more energy than normal in a predictable pattern. This phenomenon allows imaging systems to detect and visualize those atoms as they move through the body, binding to other molecules and providing doctors with a view of many biological processes as they happen inside the body.
What is nuclear medicine?
Nuclear medicine involves the use of radioactive compounds, in conjunction with special imaging systems, to analyze organ function and help diagnose or treat diseases. The radioactive compounds, known as tracers, are ingested to allow physicians to visualize bodily functions in real time. Nuclear medicine techniques also allow doctors to search for and analyze physical manifestations of certain diseases or medical problems, such as tumors, artery blockages, and bone fractures.