08/14/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

What Is A Nuclear Medicine Examination?

Your doctor ordered the nuclear medicine examination, a bone scan, lung scan, etc.
A nuclear medicine examination relies on specific radioactive isotopes or radiotracers designed to detect specific suspected pathology. Radioactive isotopes emit low dose radiation which can be detected and imaged by a special camera. The isotope is chosen to optimally detect what is clinically suspected. The examination is performed by a technologist with special training and expertise in nuclear medicine examinations. The technologist functions under the direct supervision of a physician with specific training in nuclear medicine. The physician will select the radioisotope tracer, the dosage, timing and positioning for the scan as indicated by your symptoms. For most nuclear medicine studies, there is no special preparation required but inquiry to the facility where the study is to be performed is recommended as preparation for each type of nuclear medicine examination differs.

Nuclear medicine tests are in general very sensitive but not specific, so there is a very high probability that additional imaging tests may be ordered. The specific follow up examination is dependent on the type of nuclear scan initially performed and the suspected clinical condition. There is an alternative examination for most nuclear medicine examination such as an MR for a bone scan or a Computed Tomography Angiogram. (CTA) for a ventilation perfusion lung scan.

There are no major aftereffects of a nuclear medicine examination. Rarely, localized pain or a bruise may occur at the site of injection. As can occur with any needle stick.

A written report of the results is sent to your referring physician and any other physician you request. Copies of the report can be obtained through your referring physician's office.