Are Nuclear Scans Safe? An Expert's Perspective

For the most part, nuclear explorations are safe tests. Radiation doses are very small and radionuclides have a low risk of being toxic or causing an allergic reaction. Some people may feel pain or swelling where the material is injected into a vein. But overall, nuclear medicine tests are very safe.

We carefully select the radiotracer and radiation dose to ensure minimum radiation exposure and maximum accuracy. You are exposed to almost the same amount of radiation in a nuclear medicine test as in a diagnostic x-ray. Nuclear imaging procedures are among the safest imaging tests 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 imaging procedure is comparable to, or often less than, that of a diagnostic x-ray. All medical procedures performed on anyone, whether a child or an adult, carry some risk of injury. The risk of injury can be small or large depending on the type of activity being performed. In nuclear medicine, the radiation risk of routine nuclear medicine testing is generally perceived to be very small, but limited.

There are several ways to communicate this risk and this varies from place to place. Once the information considered essential to be communicated to a patient is agreed upon, the next step is to identify the best person or groups of people who can communicate this risk to patients. Legal precedents established by bodies such as the International Commission on Radiological Protection indicate that this risk is best identified by the referring physician at the time of the decision to request the test, taking into account the demographics, clinical presentation of the patient and any influence on patient management as a result of the test in question. On a more practical level, patients are more likely to be informed of the radiation risk through a leaflet prior to the test and are given the opportunity to discuss the risks and benefits of the test with department staff. What is clear is that patients definitely need to be informed of the risks prior to the procedure and should be given the opportunity to discuss this matter in more detail with a trained person.

Nuclear medicine uses small amounts of radioactive material in combination with a carrier molecule. This compound is called a radiotracer or radiopharmaceutical. Doctors use nuclear medicine tests to diagnose, evaluate, and treat various diseases such as cancer, heart disease, gastrointestinal, endocrine, or neurological disorders. Doctors use nuclear medicine imaging procedures to see what is happening at the cellular level and to better understand how the body works. Women should always inform their doctor and technologist if they are pregnant or breastfeeding.

See the Radiation Safety page for more information on pregnancy and breastfeeding related to nuclear medicine imaging. Your doctor will use one of these imaging devices for the nuclear medicine test. The doctor usually injects the radiotracer into the bloodstream. You can also swallow or inhale it like a gas. The radiotracer accumulates in the area under examination, where it emits energy. Imaging devices, such as a gamma camera, SPECT and PET, detect this energy and, with the help of a computer, create images.

These images show how your organs and tissues work at the cellular level. The radiotracer will travel through the body and accumulate in the area of the body being studied. This can take anywhere from several seconds to several days. Your doctor will tell you when the imaging tests will begin and how long the procedure will last. When the images begin, the camera or scanner will take a series of images.

The camera can rotate around you or stay in one position. You may need to change positions during the test. You will need to stay still for short periods. In some cases, the camera may move very close to the body. This is necessary to obtain the best quality images.

Tell the technologist if you are afraid of enclosed spaces. It's important to stay still during the exam. However, having to stay still or in one position for long periods of time can cause discomfort. Nuclear medicine procedures can take a long time. It can take several hours or days for the radiotracer to accumulate in the area of interest. In addition, imaging can take up to several hours.

In some cases, newer equipment can significantly shorten procedure time. Although nuclear imaging is commonly used for diagnostic purposes, they also have valuable therapeutic applications such as treating hyperthyroidism, thyroid cancer, blood imbalances, and any bone pain caused by certain types of cancer. Image Fusion Many imaging centers combine nuclear medicine images with computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to produce special views. A nuclear medicine scan uses small amounts of radiation to create images of tissues, bones, and organs inside the body. However, the doctor will need more focused images (x-rays, CT, MRI) of those areas and look for smaller tumors that may not appear on the nuclear scan. A radiologist or nuclear medicine specialist will interpret the images and send a report to the referring doctor. As an integral part of patient care, nuclear imaging is used in diagnosis, management, treatment and prevention of serious illnesses.

In past times it was possible that many physicians ignored issues related to patients' specific consent for nuclear medicine research as this was often seen as an additional waste of time, resources and energy. Nuclear medicine uses very small amounts of radioactive material known as radiopharmaceuticals or radiotracers; in these circumstances it is up to nuclear medicine doctors to reassure such patients. Slovic's fundamental study in 1987 showed that general public may have fundamentally different ideas about risk derived from nuclear technology compared with experts in field even when nuclear technology was compared with daily activities which were quite risky in nature. The challenge is even more difficult when it comes to informing patients about potential risks associated with nuclear scans; however it is essential that patients are aware about potential risks before undergoing any kind of medical procedure involving radiation exposure. It's important for healthcare professionals involved in nuclear scans - from doctors who order them through technologists who perform them - to ensure that patients understand all potential risks associated with these scans before they agree to undergo them. Overall it's important for healthcare professionals involved in nuclear scans to ensure that patients understand all potential risks associated with these scans before they agree to undergo them; this way they can make an informed decision about their health care options and make sure they receive safe medical care.