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Nuclear Medicine

Below is a list of some frequently asked questions, but feel free to contact us if you need additional information. We are always pleased to assist you.

What is a Nuclear Medicine Examination?
A Nuclear Medicine Examination relies on specific radioactive isotopes or radiotracers designed to detect specific suspected pathology. Radioactive isotopes emit low dose radiation, which can be detected and imaged by a special camera. The isotope is chosen to optimally detect what is clinically suspected. Some examples of Nuclear Medicine tests are as follows

  • Bone scan/ Three phase bone scans- for skeletal imaging
  • Nuclear Stress test/ MUGA scans – for cardiac imaging
  • HIDA scan - for hepatobiliary imaging
  • Gastric emptying study – for gastrointestinal imaging
  • Thyroid uptake and scan/ Thyroid therapy – for endocrine imaging and treatment
  • Renal scan/Renal with Lasix- for the renal imaging
  • VQ scan (lung scan)- for pulmonary imaging
  • Gallium scan – for infection or tumor localization
  • Molecular breast imaging- for breast cancer


Why has my doctor ordered a Nuclear Medicine Examination?
Nuclear Medicine imaging provides information that other modalities cannot find and has the ability to detect disease in earlier stages.  If you are diagnosed with a variety of different cancer, heart disease, gastrointestinal issues, endocrine issues, and other abnormalities within the body a nuclear medicine exam could be beneficial to your diagnosis and treatment.

Who performs and interprets a Nuclear Medicine Examination?
A licensed technologist with special training and expertise in Nuclear Medicine Examinations will perform your examination. The technologist functions under the direct supervision of a radiologist. The radiologist will select the radioisotope tracer, the dosage, timing and positioning for the scan, as indicated by your symptoms.

What is special about having your nuclear medicine examination at MMC?
A board certified radiologist will interpret your Nuclear Medicine study at Mercy Medical Center. Radiologists are trained in the varying sensitivities and specifics of each radiotracer, and in the potential for hazards related to the isotope that must be avoided. Radiologists are also trained for distinguishing potential artifacts that may be mistaken for pathology. The Nuclear staff at Mercy is extremely educated, seasoned, and pleasant. They use state of the art equipment that produces high quality imaging.

What should I do to prepare for a Nuclear Medicine Examination?
The preparation for each Nuclear Medicine Examination differs. Most exams you must have not eaten after midnight. Other preps could include bowl preps and liquid diets but these are less common. There are a handful of studies with no prep at all. All preps will be told to you when scheduling your appointment.

What happens when I come for a nuclear study?
This question varies between all the different types of studies but, all exams start with registration. Once registered you will be brought to nuclear medicine where you will be greeted by a licensed Nuclear Technologist and/or a Nurse if you are having a Nuclear Stress Test. You will be explained the procedure and given the chance to ask any questions you may have. You then receive the nuclear isotope through intravenous injection. If you are having a thyroid study or treatment this isotope is ingested in pill form. If you are undergoing a gastric empty study the isotope is added to a prepared breakfast that will also be ingested. Finally, if you are undergoing a VQ scan (lung scan) a radioactive gas is inhaled.
Once you have received the isotope specific to the exam you are having, images will be taken using a Gamma camera. Depending on the test some images are taken immediately and other studies have a waiting period between isotope and images. In some cases the images are taken 24 or 48hrs post isotope. Examples of these are Gallium scan, Thyroid scan, Octreoscans, and Indium scans.  All studies in Nuclear Medicine can range from 30min images to much longer studies like HIDA scans which can run from 1- 3hrs or Nuclear Stress tests which run approximately 3-4hrs.

What are the risks?
As you are receiving a radioactive isotope in order to do these procedures, you are receiving a minimal amount of radiation exposure generally compared to the amount of radiation received during a routine chest x-ray. By using state of the art equipment it allows for lower doses to be used therefore keeping exposure to radiation down. The one exception to this is if you are being sent for a therapy treatment. These doses are higher due to their therapeutic properties, but proper education is always provided before receiving this type of isotope.

What are the alternatives?
Nuclear medicine is the only modality capable of imaging based on function, therefore other modalities like Cat-Scan and MRI can be used but, more so should be used in conjunction with the Nuclear Medicine Study.

What can I expect after the Nuclear Medicine Examination?
Rarely, localized pain or a bruise may occur at the site of injection. There are no major after-effects or restrictions of a Nuclear Medicine Examination. This is not the case for Therapy patients, their restrictions will be provided to them before receiving the therapy dose.

What happens to the results?
A written report of the results is sent to your referring physician and any other physician you request. Copies of the report can be obtained through your referring physician's office. The images are the property of the institution, Copies of the images taken can be obtained by contacting the radiology front desk, but you must come in to sign a release form before a CD is released.

Will other tests be ordered?
Most likely, yes, since nuclear medicine tests are, in general, very sensitive but not specific. The specific follow up examination is dependent on the type of nuclear scan initially performed and the suspected clinical condition.