Excel Nuclear Oncology Center in Houston is designated as Radiopharmaceutical Therapy Center of Excellence by SNMMI.

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What Is Nuclear Medicine?

Nuclear medicine is a branch of medicine that uses radioactive substances (radiopharmaceuticals) for specific purposes, e.g., to take detailed images of internal structures. These images can be used to assess bodily functions and to diagnose conditions and treat diseases. 

Under the guidance of Dr. Ebrahim Delpassand, our expert team here at Excel Diagnostics & Nuclear Oncology Center, offers several different types of nuclear medicine scans, including nuclear medicine single-photon emission computed tomography / computed tomography


In this article, we dive into the specifics of what nuclear medicine is and when you might benefit from a nuclear medicine scan.

What is nuclear medicine?

The word nuclear references the nucleus of an atom. In regard to nuclear medicine, certain elements 一 including technetium, thallium, gallium, iodine, and xenon 一  are used to help:

These elements are called radioactive tracers or radiopharmaceuticals. Each radioactive element has a short half-life 一 meaning they decay quickly 一 and can be used for diagnostic purposes. As the radioactive tracers decay, they emit particles that can be detected with special equipment. The specialty camera picks up these particles and transforms the data into a picture of your organs or other structures.

Elements that take longer to decay may be used for therapeutic purposes rather than diagnostic purposes. The type of element/radioactive tracer used also depends on what area of your body is being examined and why.

A closer look at nuclear medicine scans

Nuclear imaging is one of the most common aspects of nuclear medicine. Nuclear medicine scans are medical scans that provide detailed information about your body by how the radioactive elements act inside of your body. For example, some radioactive tracers are attracted to cancerous tumors. They emit gamma radiation, so if they cluster together, it’s easy for specialty imaging cameras to pick it up. This means that a nuclear scan can depict where cancerous lesions are located or if they’ve spread to other parts of your body.  

Bone scans, thyroid scans, MUGA (multigated acquisition) scans, PET (positron emission tomography) scans, Gallium scans are common scans used in cancer treatment planning, according to the American Cancer Society.

Here at Excel Diagnostics & Nuclear Oncology Center, we offer SPECT/CT scan, a type of nuclear medicine scan that combines the images from a SPECT scan and a CT scan. 

When you receive a SPECT scan, you receive the nuclear medicine radiopharmaceutical via injection. Once the tracer is in  your body, it sticks to malignant cells. Cameras detect gamma radiation, track the tracer in your body, and pinpoint where the cancerous tumors are inside of your body. Because the gamma camera rotates 360 degrees, our team can produce detailed 3-dimensional images.

During the CT scan (the second part of the SPECT/CT scan), our team takes several X-ray images to create cross-sectional images. The 3D images of the SPECT scan combined with the cross-sectional images of the CT scan provide a wealth of information. 

Nuclear medicine and radioactive tracers

When you think about radiation, you may consider an X-ray that emits radiation, but how does the radiation work when incorporated into a scan? In many cases, we administer the radioactive tracers into your bloodstream via an intravenous (IV) line. You may feel a cold sensation when your IV is pushed. 

Depending on the element used and its half-life, the element will leave your body anywhere from one day to three days to a few weeks. Our team provides you with the specifics once we’ve identified which tracer is right for you.

Do you need nuclear medicine services? 

Nuclear medicine is often incorporated into cancer treatment planning, but that’s just one use. Nuclear medicine scans can be used to assess arthritis, organ abnormalities, and even issues with your heart. Coronary artery disease, for instance, can be assessed with a nuclear stress test. 

Questions about an upcoming nuclear medicine scan? To learn more or to schedule an appointment, call our Houston, Texas, office at 713-300-4886. You can also book an appointment online.



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