Nuclear Medicine – Cancer Treatment

Introduction – Nuclear Medicine

Nuclear medicine encompasses various imaging techniques. It is also used to treat diseases. It is a cost effective, safe and painless procedure. It provides information about structure and function of the body parts. It can also be used to identify abnormalities that cannot be detected by any other method. Nuclear medicine helps to detect diseases at a very early stage. Very small amount of radio-active substances are used to diagnose and treat diseases with the use of nuclear medicine. The radioactive substances are detected by specialized cameras attached to computers. Precise pictures are obtained in this procedure.

Procedure and considerations – Nuclear Medicine

Positron emission tomography (PET) is an integral component of nuclear medicine. It can detect and stage various cancers. It can also be used to detect other diseases especially neurological diseases. It is more sophisticated than conventional MRI or CT scan. While a CT scan or an MRI can take pictures of the diseased areas, a PET scan can show deeper details. This is because an MRI or CT scan depends of imaging by radiation beams from outside the body that focus on the structure and anatomy of the diseased organ. On the other hand a PET scan uses radiation that comes from within the diseased organ to give off images. This gives a deeper picture of the structure as well as functional anatomy of the organ or system.  It can show the detailed structures of the body parts. It can differentiate between benign and malignant tumours. Benign tumours are noncancerous while malignant ones are cancerous. It can also detect subtle changes in heart and brain. This is used in heart attacks and other heart diseases and stroke, head and brain injuries etc. Early diagnosis helps in early institution of treatment.

Apart from being a diagnostic procedure, nuclear medicine can also be used for therapeutic purpose.
For a diagnostic procedure no special preparation is required for scans involving the bones, inflammatory, lymphatic, brain, renal and pulmonary systems. Those of the gastrointestinal system require fasting at least 4 hours. These may also require some medicines for bowel preparation. Tests for heart involve fasting for at least 4 hours before the exam. Thyroid scans mandate stoppage of certain drugs before tests. A small dose of the radioactive material is given usually intravenously but sometimes orally. It travels via blood vessels to specific body organ systems. Thus radioactive material is called a radiopharmaceutical or tracer. Once at the site it gives off energy as gamma rays. A gamma camera detects these rays and works with a computer to produce images of the tissues and organs. Imaging may be done immediately after injection or a few hours or days later. This is because the radiopharmaceutical may take few seconds to several days to accumulate in the tested organ or system. Time taken for the imaging study ranges between 20 and 45 minutes. Images are taken from various angles and at specified time. The quality of pictures is checked after the imaging study is completed. It is a very safe procedure. The amount of radioactive substance introduced into the body is very small. It usually does not cause any harm or any threat in the long run.

Nuclear medicine is highly sensitive. It can detect abnormalities of the structure and functions of an organ at a very early stage. Early diagnosis helps to start early treatment and improve prognosis or outcome of the disease. Apart from being a diagnostic procedure, nuclear medicine can also be used for therapeutic purpose. It is also used treat hyperthyroidism or overactive thyroid, thyroid cancer etc.

- Link of interest: Twitter Nuclear Medicine – Cancer Treatment.


This article is not medical advice nor a substitute to professional health advice. Always consult a doctor.


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