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 Nuclear Medicine

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Nuclear Medicine is a type of medical imaging that uses small amounts of radioactive material to diagnose or treat a variety of medical conditions. Nuclear medicine procedures are non-invasive and usually require an injection of a radioactive material. Nuclear medicine also offers therapeutic procedures that use radioactive iodine (I-131) to treat hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland. For example, Graves' disease) and thyroid cancer..

Nuclear medicine imaging scans are performed to:

  • analyze kidney function.
  • visualize heart blood flow and function (such as a myocardial perfusion scan).
  • scan lungs for respiratory and blood flow problems.
  • identify inflammation in the gallbladder.
  • evaluate bones for fractures, infection, arthritis and tumors.
  • determine the presence or spread of cancer in various parts of the body.
  • identify bleeding into the bowel.
  • locate the presence of infection.
  • measure thyroid function to detect an overactive or underactive thyroid.
  • 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.

Nuclear medicine procedures are performed by Medical Radiation Technologists and read by specialized radiologists.

Please tell your health care provider and the technologist if there is any possibility that you may be pregnant or if you are breast feeding.

Contact Information

To book or follow up on the status of your appointment, please contact:

Mississauga Hospital or Queensway Health Centre
Phone: 416-521-4069
Fax: 416-521-4014

Credit Valley Hospital
Phone: 905-813-2731
Fax: 905-813-4418

Resources for Patients & Their Families

How to Prepare for Your Procedure
You may be asked to wear a gown during the exam or you may be allowed to wear your own clothing.

Women should always let their doctor or technologist know if there is any possibility that they are pregnant or if they are breastfeeding their baby.
You should tell your physician and the technologist performing your exam about any medications you are taking, including vitamins and herbal supplements.

You should also tell them if you have any allergies and about recent illnesses or other medical conditions.

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.

You will receive specific instructions based on the type of scan you are undergoing.

Bone Scan
  • Please allow a minimum of 3 to 4 hours for your appointment.
  • No preparation required.
Biliary/Gallbladder Scan
  • Please allow a minimum of 1 to 2 hours for your appointment.
  • Do not eat or drink for 4 hours before your examination.
Thyroid Scan
  • The test takes 15 minutes on 2 consecutive days.
  • Do not eat or drink for 4 hours before your examination on day 1.
  • No x-ray contrast media (dye) 4 weeks prior to your scan.
  • If on thyroid medication, please check with your physician whether you need to discontinue the medication prior to your test.
Parathyroid Scan
  • Please allow a minimum of 3 hours for your appointment.
  • Do NOT eat or drink for 4 hours before your examination.
Captopril Renal (Kidney) Scan for High Blood Pressure
  • Please allow a minimum of 2 hours for your appointment.
  • Do not eat breakfast.
  • If you are taking blood pressure medication, check with your doctor whether you need to discontinue the medication prior to your test. Drink 4 glasses of water during the hour prior to your test. Urinate as needed.
  • Take a list of the medications that you are currently taking to your test.
​Renal (Kidney) Scan: Routine/Diuretic
  • Please allow a minimum of 45 minutes for your appointment.
  • Drink 4 glasses of water during the 1 hour before your test.
  • Urinate as needed.
Lasix Renal (Kidney) Scan
  • Please allow 1-2 hours for your appointment.
  • Drink 4 glasses of water during the hour before your test.
  • Urinate as needed.
Pediatric Lasix Renal (Kidney)​ Scan
  • Please allow 4 -5 hours for your appointment.
  • All preparation will occur in the hospital.
Gallium Scan
  • The scan is performed 48 to 72 hours after the gallium injection.
  • No preparation is necessary prior to the gallium injection.
  • An abdominal prep may be necessary after the gallium injection. The technologist will let you know this at the time of the injection. The actual scanning procedure takes about ½ hr - 1½ hours.
Voiding Cystogram
  • Please allow a minimum of 1 hour for your appointment.
  • No preparation is required.
Ventilation and Perfusion Lung Scan
  • Please allow a minimum of 1 hour for your appointment.
  • No preparation required.
Whole Body I-131 Scan
  • Please allow approximately 1 hour for your appointment.
  • The Scan is performed 2 to 7 days after ingesting the I-131 capsule.
  • After receiving the I-131 capsule, drink 4 to 8 glasses of water every day.
  • Eat a high fiber diet. Take a laxative the day before your scan.
Salivary Gland Scan
  • Please allow a minimum of 1 hour for your appointment.
  • Do NOT eat or drink for 4 hours prior to the test.
​HMPAO Brain Scan  
  • Please allow a minimum of 2 hours for your appointment.
  • No preparation required.
Gastric Emptying Time:
  • Please allow a minimum of 2 hours for your appointment.
  • ​Do NOT eat for 8 hours prior to the test. The patient must not be allergic to egg.
Meckels Diverticulum Scan:
  • Please allow a minimum of 2 hours for your appointment.
    The patient must be fasting for 8 hours prior to the test, 4 hours if it is an infant.
    No laxatives or aspirin for at least 5 days prior to the scan.
    No x-ray barium studies for at least 48 hours prior to the scan. Premedication with oral Zantac will be arranged by your physician.
Liver and Spleen Scan:
  • Please allow a minimum of 45 minutes for your appointment.
  • No x-ray barium studies within 3 days prior to scan.
Hemangioma Scan (RBC Liver Scan):
  • Please allow a minimum of 3 ½ hours for your appointment.
    No x-ray barium studies within the 3 days prior to the scan.
Gallbladder Scan (Biliary Scan):
  • Please allow a minimum of 1 hour and 15 minutes for your appointment. A delayed image 4 hours after your injection, may be necessary. 
  • Do NOT have anything to eat or drink for at least 2 hours and not more than 12 hours prior to the scan.
Gallbladder Scan with Ejection Fraction:
  • Please allow 1hour 45 minutes for your appointment. Do NOT have anything to eat or drink for at least 2 hours and not more than 12 hours prior to the scan. An abdominal ultrasound report must accompany your requisition.
DMSA Renal Scan:
  • Please allow a minimum of 4 hours for your appointment.
  • Drink 4 glasses of water over the hour prior to the test. Urinate as needed.
  • It is important to be well hydrated for this study.
Labeled White Blood Cell Study:
  • A blood sample is drawn early in the day (0800 – 0845). The patient returns 3 – 4 hours later for the injection of labeled white blood cells. Images may be taken 1 hr., 3-4 hours, and 24 hours later.
  • The timing of images will vary depending on the patient history.
  • No preparation is necessary.

What to Expect from Your Procedure
Nuclear medicine imaging is usually performed on an outpatient basis, but is often performed on hospitalized patients as well.

You will be positioned on an examination table. If necessary, a technologist will insert an intravenous (IV) line into a vein in your hand or arm.

Depending on the type of nuclear medicine exam you are undergoing, the dose of radiotracer is then injected intravenously, swallowed or inhaled.

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.

When swallowed, the radiotracer has little or no taste. When inhaled, you should feel no differently than when breathing room air or holding your breath.

With some procedures, a catheter may be placed into your bladder, which may cause temporary discomfort.
When it is time for the imaging to begin, the 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. It is important that you remain still while the images are being recorded.

In some cases, the camera may move very close to your body. This is necessary to obtain the best quality images.

If you are claustrophobic, you should let the technologist know before your exam begins.

The length of time for nuclear medicine procedures varies greatly, depending on the type of exam. Actual scanning time for nuclear imaging exams can take from 20 minutes to several hours and may be conducted over several days.

Though nuclear imaging itself causes no pain, there may be some discomfort from having to remain still or to stay in one particular position during imaging.

How It Works

Nuclear medicine procedures use a radioactive material called a radiopharmaceutical, which is injected into your bloodstream, swallowed or inhaled. This radioactive material accumulates in the organ or area of your body being examined, where it gives off a small amount of energy in the form of gamma rays. A gamma camera or probe detects this energy and with the help of a computer creates pictures offering details on both the structure and function of organs and tissues in your body. 

Unlike other imaging techniques, nuclear medicine imaging studies are less directed toward 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. Areas of greater intensity, called "hot spots", indicate where large amounts of the radiotracer have accumulated and where there is a high level of chemical activity. Less intense areas, or "cold spots", indicate a smaller concentration of radiotracer and less chemical activity.

In radioactive iodine (I-131) therapy, radioactive iodine (I-131) is swallowed, absorbed into the bloodstream in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and concentrated from the blood by the thyroid gland where it destroys cells within that organ.


What to Expect After Your Procedure

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 before you leave the nuclear medicine department.

Through the natural process of radioactive decay, the small amount of radiopharmaceutical in your body will lose its radioactivity over time. It may also pass out of your body through your urine or stool during the first few hours or days following the test. You may be instructed to take special precautions after urinating, to flush the toilet twice and to wash your hands thoroughly. You should also drink plenty of water to help flush the radioactive material out of your body as instructed by the nuclear medicine personnel.