Nuclear Medicine & Molecular Imaging

What is nuclear medicine?

Nuclear medicine involves the use of small amounts of radioactive materials (or tracers) to help diagnose and treat a variety of diseases. Nuclear medicine determines the cause of the medical problem based on the function of the organ, tissue or bone. This is how nuclear medicine differs from an x-ray, ultrasound or any other diagnostic test that determines the presence of disease based on structural appearance.

Millions of nuclear medicine tests are performed each year in the United States alone. Nuclear medicine tests (also known as scans, examinations, or procedures) are safe and painless.
In a nuclear medicine test, the radioactive material is introduced into the body by injection, swallowing, or inhalation.

Video: Molecular Nuclear Medicine: making personalized treatment a reality

Different tracers are used to study different parts of the body. The amount of tracer used is carefully selected to provide the least amount of radiation exposure to the patient but ensures an accurate test.

A special camera (scintillation or gamma camera) is used to take pictures of your body. The camera does this by detecting the tracer in the organ, bone or tissue being imaged and then records this information on a computer screen or on film.
Generally, nuclear medicine tests are not recommended for pregnant women because unborn babies have a greater sensitivity to radiation than children or adults. If you are pregnant or think that you are pregnant, your doctor may order a different type of diagnostic test.

Back to top

Contact Information

300 Pasteur Drive, 2nd Flr, H0222
Stanford, CA

Phone

(650) 723-6855

Days & Hours

Monday - Friday
8:30am-5:00pm

 

Is nuclear medicine safe?

Nuclear medicine procedures are among the safest diagnostic imaging exams available. A patient only receives an extremely small amount of a 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 manmade 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.

Because of their special training, the nuclear medicine physician is able to select the most appropriate examination for the patient's particular medical problem, thereby avoiding any unnecessary radiation exposure.

Back to top

What are the benefits of nuclear medicine?

Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging Clinic

PET/CT ClinicMain Hospital
2nd Floor H2200

Nuclear medicine is a safe, painless, and cost-effective way of gathering information that may otherwise be unavailable or require a more expensive and risky diagnostic test. One unique aspect of a nuclear medicine test is its extreme sensitivity to abnormalities in an organ's structure or function. 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 better prognosis.

Although nuclear medicine is commonly used for diagnostic purposes, it also has valuable therapeutic applications such as treatment of hyperthyroidism, thyroid cancer, blood imbalances, and any bony pain from certain types of cancer.

Back to top

What are the common types of nuclear medicine procedures?

What are the general patient preparation instructions?

Back to top

How are general procedures performed?

For more information, visit:

Back to top

View all Imaging Services

Stanford Medicine Resources:

Footer Links: