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Nuclear Medicine, a Super Speciality

Written by
Dr. Santhosh Sampath
and medically reviewed by iCliniq medical review team.

Published on Sep 02, 2014 and last reviewed on Aug 03, 2019   -  3 min read



Nuclear medicine involves the use of radioactive substances in the diagnosis and treatment of various conditions. Read about its uses and advantages.

Nuclear Medicine, a Super Speciality

What is Nuclear Medicine?

Nuclear medicine is a medical speciality that utilizes radioisotopes for the purpose of diagnosis and treatment. It is considered as a branch of radiology. Radioisotopes are nothing but simple substances like iodine, fluorine (which are normally present in the human body) which after some physicochemical modification can be applied for medicinal use. This speciality has been in use for the management of common and rare medical conditions since 1950s. This is a relatively advanced and expensive technology. In the earlier times, the applications were limited, however with increase in new inventions and better understanding of the disease processes, nuclear medicine has now become an integral part of the routine investigations and management of many diseases.

What are the Components of Nuclear Medicine?

This speciality encompasses various imaging investigations like gamma imaging with SPECT (Single Photon Emission Computerized Tomography) and CT, hybrid PET (Positron Emission Tomography) and CT and therapeutic applications like treating thyroid diseases, better palliative therapy of some cancers, palliation of bone pain in cancer patients, joint problems etc.

Gamma imaging includes bone scan, renal scan, liver scan, cardiac scan etc.

Uses of these Investigations:

Bone Scan:

  • Detection of metastasis (spread of tumour from the primary site to other bones and lymph nodes) in cancer.
  • Diagnosing osteomyelitis (bone infection).

Renal Scan:

  • Detection of scar following pyelonephritis (kidney infection).
  • Diagnosing obstruction in hydronephrosis (swollen kidney due to accumulation of urine).

Liver Scan:

  • Diagnosing the cause of jaundice in young infants.
  • To identify the site of bile leakage following surgery, trauma etc.

Cardiac Scan:

  • In chest pain due to MI (Myocardial Infarction, commonly called as the heart attack), angina (chest pain due to narrowing of blood vessels) - to detect the extent of myocardium in the heart that can be improved after bypass surgery or angioplasty and stenting.
  • To calculate the contractile function of the heart.

PET/CT imaging is an investigation without which many oncologic, cardiac, neurologic and infectious diseases cannot be diagnosed properly these days, resulting in incomplete treatment.

What are the advantages of nuclear medicine?

  • The speciality uses the concept of target-based approach for its investigative and therapeutic applications.
  • Unlike many other modalities, the side effects and complications arising from these procedures are very minimal.
  • Because of these characteristics, the delivery of a consistent health care is possible with nuclear medicine.
  • Patient compliance is also extremely good and they prefer to and volunteer for necessary follow up and research studies.

What is the need for nuclear medicine?

  • For most of the indications as discussed previously, no other modality can give a cost-effective and accurate information as nuclear medicine. This has been tested with time.
  • Due to unavailability of this department, many patients are undertreated and at times overtreated due to the inadequate information.
  • Next to cardiac problems, cancer of many organ systems is becoming the leading cause of mortality worldwide.
  • As commonly known, cancer is classified into four stages. Stage IV and in some cancers stage III diseases are inoperable and palliative care with good quality chemo and radiotherapy is needed.
  • Being a whole body imaging modality with advanced features, PET/CT (in comparison to other existing facilities like MRI,CT, etc,) can effectively diagnose the stage of the cancer and thereby avoid unnecessary surgeries. This is because PET/CT can accurately diagnose the metastases at an early time. Similarly, once the treatment is initiated, the response to therapy can also be effectively monitored by this modality.
  • Nuclear medicine based therapy can offer the best cure for the commonest thyroid problems.
  • Similarly, many other cancers can be treated palliatively by nuclear medicine.

The scope for growth in patient health care as well as economy is wide for nuclear medicine and is growing day by day.

For investigations and treatment modalities related to nuclear medicine, consult a nuclear medicine physician online -->


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Last reviewed at:
03 Aug 2019  -  3 min read




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