What is Nuclear Medicine?

what-is-nuclear-medicineNuclear Medicine is a health care specialty.It uses radioactive materials and advanced technology to diagnose and treat diseases. Many people mistakenly associate this field with X-rays and radiology departments. However, this type of medicine has much more to offer.

What is Nuclear Based Medicine?

This medical specialty uses radioactive tracers, also known as radiopharmaceuticals, to:

  • analyze the body
  • diagnose disease
  • provide treatment options

For example, nuclear based medicine can treat GI, heart, endocrine and other diseases. It is also useful in fighting cancer. Modern nuclear based medicine is extremely advanced and can actually monitor molecular activity. Therefore, they can screen for and identify diseases in the early stages of development.

What are Radiopharmaceuticals?

These radioactive agents are used to diagnose medical conditions or treat diseases. They contain radioisotopes, but are composed of two specific parts:

  • a radionuclide
  • a pharmaceutical

They can be given:

  • by mouth
  • by injection
  • through a body cavity

Small amounts of radiopharmaceuticals are considered safe, but the larger amounts required for certain cancer treatments have harmful effects on the body.

How do Radiopharmaceuticals Function?

Certain radiopharmaceuticals will affect different areas or organs of the body. For example

  • urinary bladder diseases are diagnosed through sodium pertechnetate
  • lung diseases through kypton
  • kidney diseases through Iodohippurate sodium

As a result, the ingested or injected materials will collect in the target organ. Once this happens, a radio-graphic picture is taken through special imaging equipment. Nuclear based medicine professionals will use the pictures to study how the organ is functioning. On the other hand, larger amounts of radiopharmaceuticals will target the cancerous area and destroy the affected tissue. The only downside is that larger amounts of radiopharmaceuticals will cause other serious health problems.

Specific Medical Treatment Examples

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), nuclear based medicine can treat:

  • bone pain
  • thyroid cancer
  • brain tumors

For example, bone tumors can be treated through injecting radiopharmaceuticals in veins. The radioactive materials will naturally build up and relieve the pain caused from bone metastases. Then again, thyroid cancer can be treated through radioactive iodine because the thyroid gland naturally absorbs iodine found in the blood. This process is quite safe. Finally, brain cysts can be safely destroyed through phosphorus 32 injections with minimal side effects. Clearly, there are excellent benefits to nuclear based medicine.

Is Nuclear Based Medicine Safe?

According to the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging (SNMMI), the small amounts of radiation received during minimally invasive treatments are comparable to other regular day-to-day activities. For example, watching television and getting a chest X-ray both result in .01 mSv. These international units are used to measure nuclear exposure. On the other hand, just living in the U.S. will result in 3 mSv ever year, while nuclear based medicine bone scan will result in 4.2 mSv. Smoking 20 cigarettes a day will result in 53 mSv a year compared to cancer treatment, which can create up to 50,000 mSv.

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Nuclear based medicine offers excellent benefits with regard to medical diagnosis and treatment. It can successfully cure many types of medical problems through radiopharmaceuticals. However, aggressive cancer treatments cure disease while creating additional health problems. In the end, Nuclear Medicine is a vital part of modern day medicine.