Nuclear medicine uses radiopharmaceuticals that consists of a medicine (a pharmaceutical) that is attached to a small quantity of a radioactive material (a radioisotope). There are many different radiopharmaceuticals available to study different parts of the body. Which radiopharmaceutical is used depends on the condition to be diagnosed or treated. Radiopharmaceuticals, also called tracers, are introduced into the patient’s body by injection, swallowing or inhalation.
Radiopharmaceuticals emit energy known as gamma rays (similar to X-rays) that can be detected by special types of cameras (such as PET, SPECT, or gamma cameras). These cameras work online with computers to form images that provide detailed information about the part of the body being imaged. These cameras come in different shapes and sizes. The nuclear medicine specialist will select the best camera type based on which area of the body and for what reason it will be scanned and the best technology available. Some cameras move across the body, some rotate around the body, and some do not move at all. These cameras do not hurt or make any noise. Furthermore, unlike X-rays, CT scanners, ultrasounds, or MRIs, nuclear medicine cameras transmit no radiation through the patient.
If nuclear medicine is used to help treat your condition, the tracer is designed in such a way to go to the diseased area allowing treatment to be targeted to this site of the disease.