Nuclear Medicine

Queen’s Imaging at The Queen’s Medical Center offers the largest and most active nuclear medicine department in Hawaii.

Nuclear medicine imaging procedures are noninvasive and usually painless procedures that help Queen’s physicians diagnose medical conditions or treat a variety of diseases, including many types of cancers, heart disease and certain other abnormalities within the body.

Unlike other imaging techniques, nuclear medicine imaging studies are less about picturing anatomy and structure, and more concerned with depicting physiologic processes within the body, such as rates of metabolism or levels of various other chemical activity. PET Scans are a type of nuclear medicine procedure.

Nuclear medicine imaging scans are performed to:

  • Analyze kidney function
  • Determine the presence or spread of cancer in various parts of the body
  • Evaluate bones for fractures, infection, arthritis and tumors
  • Identify bleeding into the bowel
  • Identify inflammation in the gallbladder
  • Investigate abnormalities in the brain, such as seizures, memory loss and abnormalities in blood flow
  • Localize the lymph nodes before surgery in patients with breast cancer or melanoma
  • Locate the presence of infection
  • Measure thyroid function to detect an overactive or underactive thyroid
  • Scan lungs for respiratory and blood flow problems
  • Visualize heart blood flow and function, such as a myocardial perfusion scan

These procedures are usually performed on an outpatient basis, but are often ordered for hospitalized patients as well.

Preparing for Your Procedure

  • Transportation: No special preparations are required for this test. You will be able to drive home after this test.
  • Food and Drink: You may eat normally, unless other instructions have been given.
  • Medications: Inform your physician and the technologist performing your exam of any medications you are taking, including vitamins and herbal supplements. You should also inform them if you have any allergies and about recent illnesses or other medical conditions.
  • Clothing: You may be asked to wear a gown during the exam or you may be allowed to wear your own clothing.Jewelry and other metallic accessories should be left at home if possible, or removed prior to the exam because they may interfere with the procedure.

Depending on the type of exam, the length of time for nuclear medicine procedures varies greatly. Actual scanning time for nuclear imaging exams can take from 20 minutes to several hours, and may be conducted over several days as it can take anywhere from several seconds to several days for the radiotracer to travel through your body and accumulate in the organ or area being studied.

During the procedure, you will be positioned on an examination table. If necessary, a nurse or technologist will insert an intravenous (IV) line into a vein in your hand or arm, then you will be given a dose of radiotracer. Depending on the type of nuclear medicine exam you are undergoing, the dose of radiotracer is then injected intravenously, swallowed or inhaled as a gas.

If the radiotracer is:

  • Given intravenously: You will feel a slight pin prick when the needle is inserted into your vein for the intravenous line. When the radioactive material is injected into your arm, you may feel a cold sensation moving up your arm, but there are generally no other side effects.
  • Swallowed: The radiotracer has little or no taste.
  • Inhaled: You should feel no differently than when breathing room air or holding your breath.

Once the radiotracer has traveled through your body and accumulated in the organ or area being studied, which can take from several seconds to several days, a gamma camera will take a series of images. The camera may rotate around you or it may stay in one position and you will be asked to change positions in between images. While the camera is taking pictures, you will need to remain still for brief periods of time.

When the examination is completed, you may be asked to wait until the technologist checks the images, in case additional images are needed. Occasionally, more images are obtained for clarification or better visualization of certain areas or structures.

Finally, If you had an IV line inserted for the procedure, it will usually be removed unless you are scheduled for an operating room procedure that same day.

Unless your physician tells you otherwise, you may resume your normal activities after your nuclear medicine scan. If any special instructions are necessary, you will be informed by a technologist, nurse or physician before you leave the nuclear medicine department.

A radiologist who has specialized training in nuclear medicine will interpret the images and forward a report to your referring physician.

PET (Positron Emission Tomography) Scans

In a joint venture with Hamamatsu Photonics of Japan, a leading manufacturer of high end electronic components and medical equipment, The Queen’s Medical Center offers the only hospital-based PET(Positron Emission Tomography) scanning facility in the state of Hawaii called Hamamatsu/Queen’s PET Imaging Center.

A type of Nuclear Medicine and combined with Computed Tomography, PET/CTs use small amounts of radioactive materials called radiotracers, a special camera and a computer to help evaluate your organ and tissue functions.

By identifying body changes at the cellular level, PET may detect the early onset of disease before it is evident on other imaging tests. For example, a tumor’s size, shape, mass, and location can be imaged by the CT scanner, while the PET shows where and how rapidly a tumor is growing.

See the most updated information about this technology at Radiology Info for Patients.

Outside Resources

Find updated information about this modality from the Radiological Society of North America.

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