What Is Nuclear Medicine?

When I tell someone that I work for Cincinnati Children’s, the first thing they ask me is, “What do you do there?” When I tell them I’m a nuclear medicine technologist, the response is usually, “Wow!… What is that?”

In nuclear medicine, a specialized imaging department in radiology, we use a small amount of a radioactive medicine to diagnose and treat disease. Although the terms radioactive or nuclear sound intimidating, this medicine is safe to use in patient care. The medicine we use is a combination of a radioactive material and a pharmaceutical called a radiopharmaceutical. There are different radiopharmaceuticals that go to different parts of the body. There are no side effects or allergic reactions to any of the radioactive medicines. As a nuclear medicine technologist, I have an educational background in chemistry, biology, nuclear physics and medical imaging. I am specially trained in making radiopharmaceuticals.

For most of our studies, we give the radiopharmaceutical through an IV, butterfly needle or central line. Sometimes the medicine is inhaled, swallowed or put through a small bladder catheter.

The nuclear medicine cameras do not use any radiation like an x-ray camera does. Instead, they image the radioactive medicine in different parts of your child’s body. We can look at the bones for fractures and infection, at the stomach to see how well it’s emptying food, and at the kidneys to see how well they’re functioning. We can even look at the brain to see where seizures are taking place. These are just a few examples of the information nuclear medicine can provide about your child’s body and health.

While other departments in radiology are using images to look at the anatomy of the body, nuclear medicine uses imaging to look at the physiology or function of the body.  For example, if a doctor thinks your child’s’ stomach isn’t emptying food at a normal rate, they can order a Gastric Emptying Scan. Your child would eat a scrambled egg with radioactive medicine in it. We take a picture immediately after you child is finished eating and every 30 minutes for the next 2 hours. This nuclear medicine imaging study helps us determine how much food has emptied out of the stomach and tells us if the rate of emptying is too slow, borderline too slow, or just right.

Another common test we do is a Bone Scan. There are several reasons your child’s doctor would order this test. We can see fractures, inflammation, infection and tumors in the bone. For this test, we give the medicine through a butterfly needle injection. The radioactive medicine moves through the bloodstream and, over 90 minutes, is absorbed into the bones. The nuclear medicine imaging can then identify specific concerns in the bones.

Our nuclear medicine team includes physicians and radiologists with advanced training and additional certifications in Nuclear Medicine. Along with the doctors and nurses, the technologists and child life specialists collaborate with your entire family to provide the best care for your child. Our team works hard to help you and your child understand your nuclear medicine study and support you throughout the procedure.

Contributed by Bessie Ganim, Spec Tech-Nuc Med.

Catherine Leopard

About the Author: Catherine Leopard

Catherine is a Child Life Specialist who works in Cincinnati Children’s Department of Radiology. She has always been drawn to helping children overcome their fears. As a young child, Catherine remembers sitting in her pediatrician’s office feeling sad as she listened to young babies crying in exam rooms. In response, she began singing lullabies through the walls to sooth and comfort those children in distress. As an adult, she first experienced the support of Child Life when her infant daughter was hospitalized. After that positive experience, Catherine completed her Child Life internship at Cincinnati Children’s and has worked here ever since. Her daughter is now a teenager and her son is an active 3rd grader.

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  1. Kerrie August 28, 08:28
    Excellent article, Bessie!!! Thank you for writing this and getting the information out on what we do!!
  2. nuclear medicine Adelaide July 13, 08:06
    nice post.. keep it up..if you need any nuclear medicine