How Does Nuclear Medicine Work

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According to the Center for Nuclear Science and Technology Information, about one-third of all procedures used in modern hospitals involve radiation or radioactivity. But how exactly does nuclear medicine work?   

How Does Nuclear Medicine Work  

Nuclear medicine introduces small amounts of radioactive material to diagnose, evaluate, or treat a variety of diseases and medical conditions. Radiotracers are injected into the bloodstream or swallowed by the patient to then travel through the body to diagnose or treat a disease. Here’s how nuclear medicine works in diagnosis and treatment.   

Nuclear Medicine in Diagnosis  

Nuclear medicine can be used to diagnose a large variety of health conditions including cancer and neurological disorders. When a patient is given a radiopharmaceutical, the radiotracers will accumulate or bind to the specific area of the body being examined. Gamma rays, one of the tell-tale characteristics of radiopharmaceuticals, will then be emitted, and a camera or device will produce pictures and provide molecular information necessary for diagnosis. PET, SPECT, CT, and MRI scans are common nuclear medicine diagnosis methods.  

Nuclear Medicine in Therapy  

Nuclear medicine also offers therapeutic resolutions to health conditions patients are already battling. Radioactive iodine (I-131) therapy is one of the most common therapeutic nuclear medicine solutions. This can be used to treat thyroid cancer, hyperthyroidism, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and bone pain. The therapy works by introducing radioactive iodine into the body. The harmful cells will absorb the radioactive iodine substance. Once absorbed, the substance will kill the harmful cells.  

What Else Can Nuclear Medicine Be Used For  

As previously mentioned, nuclear medicine can commonly be used to diagnose and treat cancer. However, there are many other instances where nuclear medicine can be used. Nuclear medicine can be utilized for determining treatment options for bypass surgery, respiratory complications, bone tumors, early-onset Alzheimer’s, and kidney health, among numerous other uses.