Nuclear Medicine

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Nuclear Medicine

Nuclear medicine has been around for more than 50 years now and stems from the discovery of x-rays and artificial radioactivity. In 1946, nuclear medicine made a monumental breakthrough when radioactive iodine led to the complete disappearance of cancer in a patient’s thyroid. Nuclear medicine became widely used in the 1950’s to measure the function of the thyroid, to diagnose thyroid disease, and for the treatment of patients with hyperthyroidism. By the 1970’s nuclear medicine was used to visualize other organs of the body other than the thyroid such as scanning of the liver and spleen, localizing brain tumors, and images of the gastrointestinal track. The use of digital computers and detection of heart disease arose in the 1980’s and today there are over 100 different nuclear imaging procedures used to interpret information on every organ system in the body. Nuclear medicine is a special branch of medicine or medical imagery. It uses radioactive isotopes that rely on the process of unstable atomic nucleic emission of ionizing particles and radiation to diagnose and treat disease. Radiation looks at both the function and the anatomy of the body to establish a diagnosis and treatment. The tests use small amounts of radioactive material to assist with diagnosis. Radiopharmaceuticals or radiotracers are the radioactive materials used in the image scan. Depending on the exam preformed, the radiotracer is either injected into the veins, swallowed, or inhaled as a gas in order to accumulate in the organ or specific area of the body being examined which will produce gamma rays. Gamma rays are a high frequency form of electromagnetic radiation. The rays are detected by special machines called positron emission tomography (PET) scanners, probes, or gamma cameras. These machines are hooked up to a computer and they work together to see the amount of radiotracer absorbed by the body or specific organ to produce an image. The image is very descriptive and assists to examine the function and/or anatomy of the specific area of concern. There is also therapeutic radiation which produces penetrating waves or particles to kill cancer cells, stop them from reproducing, shrink tumors, or used in a combination with chemotherapy.

Nuclear medicine is a pain free and a non-invasive way to treat and diagnose patients. It helps identify the first signs of abnormalities before problems are apparent with other diagnostic tests. Unlike with CT and MRI scans that only give structural information, nuclear medicine tests provide information about the functional status and viability of different organs and tissues. The procedure is usually quick and accurate allowing ample amount of time for treatment to produce the best outcome of recovery and covers a wide variety of conditions and diseases. The tests only expose a minimal amount of radiation to patients which makes them safe. Nuclear therapy is a painless, efficient, safe, and relatively inexpensive way to control or eliminate cancers, overactive thyroid, and even arthritis. The radiotracers used in the tests are safe as well as the amount of radiation each patient is exposed to. Radiotracers rapidly lose their radioactivity and are quickly emitted from the body by its normal functions. There are basically no side effects of nuclear medicine except for the common case of nausea experience with radiotherapy. This type of medicine can provide patients with a long and healthy life.

There is a very minimal list of risks involved with nuclear medicine. Radiation risk varies according to the age, sex, size, body structure, and make up of the patient as well as the dose of radioactive tracer used to complete the exam. The greatest risk associated with nuclear medicine is the development of cancer. There has not been an exact match that radiation causes or has ever been tied to cancer. Nuclear medicine represents a small but increasing amount of radiation exposure for the patient....
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