What is it?
Nuclear medicine uses very small amounts of radioactive substances called isotopes which accumulate in certain parts of the body depending on the type of test and provide information about both the structure and function of the body part. The isotope is usually attached to a chemical which will transport it to the organ of interest. Sometimes, some of the patient's own blood cells will be used after being 'labelled' with the isotope.
These radioactive isotopes emit gamma rays, which are similar to X-rays. The radiation does not stay in your body for long as the isotope decays within a few hours. Radiation from the isotope is then detected by a specialised detector called a gamma camera.
Some of its uses include the assessment of kidney function, detection of bone tumours or fractures, diagnosis of hormone abnormalities and the diagnosis of Parkinson's disease.
Combining the functional information from a specific nuclear isotope (positron emission tomography, PET) with a CT scan is very useful in the diagnosis and staging of cancers (CT-PET study). This scan can be arranged at the local scanner in Guildford.
How is it done?
Occasionally, you may be asked to not eat or stop certain medications before an examination. The isotope preparation is generally injected into a vein, but may be swallowed or inhaled, and is taken up by a specific organ. Depending on the type of scan, after the initial administration of the substance you may be asked to return at a certain time. You will then lie still on a couch whilst the gamma camera picks up the low levels of radioactivity and creates the image. It is important to try and lie still as possible for this part of the test.