Nuclear Medicine | Keck Medicine of USC

Nuclear Medicine

Nuclear Medicine is the medical specialty that uses small amounts of radioactive materials for diagnosis, and somewhat larger amounts for treatment of disease. The emphasis is on diagnosis of disease. In Nuclear Medicine imaging, the source of radioactivity is not in the machine, but inside the patient for a short period of time.

Types of Tests Performed

In Vitro: a test procedure involving analysis of blood and urine specimens using radiochemicals.

Radioimmunoassay (RIA). A special type of procedure that combines the use of radiochemicals and antibodies to detect hormones, vitamins and drugs in a patient’s blood.

In Vivo: a test procedure in which trace amounts of radiopharmaceuticals are given directly to a patient to evaluate function of an organ or to image it.

  • Imaging of Thyroid Nodules: detection of cancer.
  • Liver and Spleen Imaging: detection of tumor, abscess and cirrhosis.
  • Bone Imaging: detection of bone cancer, infection and fracture.
  • Gallbladder Imaging: diagnosis of gallbladder attack.
  • Cardiac Imaging: determination of heart function or areas of injury.
  • Lung Imaging: detection of clots (pulmonary emboli).

Indications for use of Nuclear Medicine

Bone Scan: early detection of trauma, infection, tumor (before detected on X-ray). Non-invasive.

Infection Scan: early detection of infection anywhere in the body. Radiolabeled white blood cells or other radiopharmaceuticals with rapid whole body imaging. Non-invasive.

Myocardial Blood Flow Scan: no catheters, no dyes, no morbidity or mortality, for the non-invasive detection of coronary artery disease (much more accurate than stress electrocardiogram).

Cerebral Blood Flow Scan: immediate detection of stroke, prediction of imminent stroke, differentiation of Alzheimer’s disease from other treatable forms of dementia. Non-invasive.

Thyroid Imaging: detection of thyroid cancer and overactive and under active thyroid gland function.

Lung Imaging:
detection of blood clots to the lungs from the legs.

Cardiac Wall Motion and Pump Function:
evaluation of how efficiently the heart is pumping blood without using catheters or dyes. No morbidity, no mortality.

GI Blood Study: early detection of very small gastrointestinal bleeds. No catheters, no dyes.

Therapy Various Forms: joint fluid accumulation, thyroid cancer, overactive thyroid gland, excessively thickened blood (prone to clotting), etc.

Tumor Scans: non-invasive whole body imaging for early detection of tumor spread or residual post surgical tumor and monitor response to chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

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Last modified: February 12, 2019