Useful Links about Nuclear Medical Technology
Frequently Asked Questions about Nuclear Medical Technology
What is nuclear medicine?
Nuclear medicine is a medical specialty which uses safe, painless, and cost-effective techniques to image the body and treat disease. Nuclear medicine imaging is unique in that it documents organ function and structure, in contrast to diagnostic radiology which is based upon anatomy. It is a way to gather medical information that may otherwise be unavailable, require surgery, or necessitate more expensive diagnostic tests.
When is nuclear medicine used?
As an integral part of patient care, nuclear medicine is used in the diagnosis, management, treatment and prevention of serious disease. Nuclear medicine imaging procedures often identify abnormalities very early in the progression of a disease - long before some medical problems are apparent with other diagnostic tests. This early detection allows a disease to be treated early in its course when there may be a more successful prognosis.
Although nuclear medicine is commonly used for diagnostic purposes, it also provides valuable therapeutic applications such as treatment of hyperthyroidism, thyroid cancer, blood imbalances, and pain relief from certain types of bone cancers.
Common nuclear medicine applications include diagnosis and treatment of hyperthyroidism (Graves' Disease), cardiac stress tests to analyze heart function, bone scans for orthopedic injuries, lung scans for blood clots, and liver and gall bladder procedures to diagnose abnormal function or blockages.
How much radioactive material is used?
Nuclear medicine uses very small amounts of radioactive materials, or radiopharmaceuticals, to diagnose and treat disease. Radiopharmaceuticals are substances that are attracted to specific organs, bones, or tissues. When radiopharmaceuticals are introduced into the body, they produce emissions. A special type of camera, a gamma or PET camera, is used to transform these emissions into images and data which provide information about the area of the body being imaged.
How long has nuclear medicine been used?
Nuclear medicine has a complex and multifaceted heritage. Its origins stem from many scientific discoveries, most notably the discovery of x-rays in 1895 and the discovery of "artificial radioactivity" in 1934. The first clinical use of "artificial radioactivity" was carried out in 1937 for the treatment of a patient with leukemia at the University of California at Berkeley.
A landmark event for nuclear medicine occurred in 1946 when a thyroid cancer patient's treatment with radioactive iodine caused complete disappearance of the spread of the patient's cancer. This has been considered by some as the true beginning of nuclear medicine.
How has nuclear medicine changed since it’s beginning?
Wide-spread clinical use of nuclear medicine, however, did not start until the early 1950s. The value of radioactive iodine became apparent as its use increased to measure the function of the thyroid and to diagnose thyroid disease. Simultaneously, more and more physicians began to use "nuclear medicine" for the treatment of patients with hyperthyroidism.
In the mid-sixties and the years that followed, the growth of nuclear medicine as a specialty discipline was phenomenal. The advances in nuclear medicine technology and instrument manufacturers were critical to this development. The 1970s brought the visualization of most other organs of the body with nuclear medicine, including liver and spleen scanning, brain tumor localization, and studies of the gastrointestinal track. The 1980s provided the use of radiopharmaceuticals for such critical diagnoses as heart disease and the development of cutting-edge nuclear medicine cameras and computers.
Today, there are nearly 100 different nuclear medicine imaging procedures, which uniquely provide information about virtually every major organ system within the body. An estimated 10 to 12 million nuclear medicine imaging and therapeutic procedures are performed each year in the U.S.
Who can practice nuclear medicine?
Nuclear medicine is practiced only by licensed physicians who are assisted by certified technologists and are supported by specially trained physicists and pharmacists. Nuclear medicine combines chemistry, physics, mathematics, computer technology, and medicine in using radioactivity to diagnose and treat disease.
What training do physicians need to practice nuclear medicine?
Physicians must first receive a medical degree and have one or more years of training in a medical specialty other than nuclear medicine. A further two years of training in nuclear medicine is then required during which special instruction is given in physics, radiopharmacy, and radiation biology, as well as patient evaluation, radionuclide therapy, and diagnostic studies.
Emphasis is given to cost-effective approaches to patient care. After successful completion of at least three years of post-doctoral training, a physician may take the certifying examination given by the American Board of Nuclear Medicine.
What training do technologists need to practice nuclear medicine?
Nationally approved training programs for nuclear medicine technologists have been in existence for many years. These include training in radiation safety, the correct handling of radioactive materials, and techniques of performing nuclear medicine exams. On completion of high school and at least two more years of study and hospital training, the student must pass an examination to be identified as a Certified Nuclear Medicine Technologist (CNMT).
What do scientists contribute to nuclear medicine?
Leading universities and teaching hospitals provide specialized training to:
Is Nuclear Medicine Safe?
- physicists, who assure the reliability and quality of the instruments used in the performance of tests;
- pharmacists, who specialize in providing reliable and safe radiopharmaceuticals for patient exams; and
- radiochemists, who develop and improve the radiopharmaceuticals.
Nuclear medicine procedures are among the safest diagnostic imaging exams available. A patient receives only an extremely small amount of radiopharmaceutical, just enough to provide sufficient diagnostic information. In fact, the amount of radiation from a nuclear medicine procedure is comparable to, or often times less than, that of a diagnostic x-ray.
Although we don't think much about it, everyone is continually exposed to radiation from natural and man-made sources. For most people, natural background radiation from space, rocks, soil, and even carbon and potassium atoms in his or her own body, accounts for 85 percent of their annual exposure. Additional exposure is received from consumer products such as household smoke detectors, color television sets, and luminous dial clocks. The remainder is from x-rays and radioactive materials used for medical diagnosis and therapy.
With most nuclear medicine procedures, the patient receives about the same amount of radiation as that acquired in a few months of normal living. A nuclear medicine physician is able to select the most appropriate examination for the patient's particular medical problem, and thereby avoid any unnecessary radiation exposure.
Children commonly undergo nuclear medicine procedures to evaluate bone pain, injuries, infection, or kidney and bladder function.
Nuclear medicine procedures are painless and do not require anesthesia.
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