Nuclear medicine is a medical specialty that uses radioactive-labelled drugs with safe, painless, and cost-effective techniques to image the body and treat disease. Nuclear medicine imaging is unique in that it documents organ function and structure, in contrast to diagnostic radiology, which demonstrates anatomy based on density differences of body tissues.
Nuclear medicine uses very small amounts of radioactive materials to diagnose and treat disease. Pharmaceuticals are substances that are attracted to specific organs, bones, or tissues. The pharmaceuticals used in nuclear medicine are “tagged” with a radioactive material. These “radiopharmaceuticals” emit gamma-and/or x-rays that, for diagnostic procedures, are detected externally by special types of cameras: gamma- or PET- cameras. These cameras work in conjunction with computers to form images that provide data and information about the physiology of the area of the body being imaged. (The amount of radiation from a nuclear medicine procedure is comparable to that received during a diagnostic x-ray procedure.)
An estimated 10 to 12 million nuclear imaging and therapeutic procedures are performed each year in the United States.
There are 100 different nuclear medicine imaging procedures available today.There are approximately 2,700 full-time equivalent nuclear medicine physicians and 14,000 certified nuclear medicine technologists nationwide.