What is a nuclear scan?
A nuclear scan is a technique that uses radioactive substances to see and understand structures and functions of organs inside the body, with the use of a special camera that detects radioactivity.A radioactive tracer is given into the bloodstream through veins typically. But there are other ways of giving it, such as by giving it orally and through the nose with breathing. It takes images of bones also. Broad names are nuclear medicine, nuclear imaging, and radionuclide imaging.
If a lady is pregnant and expecting a baby soon, this test is quite risky, so the doctor postpones the test if it is not extremely urgent. Also, if you are in a lactation ( breastfeeding period) and undergoing this test, make sure to stop feeding for 10 hours after the nuclear scan test.
Before the nuclear scan test, the patient is injected with a small amount of radioactive material. Alternatively, it can be swallowed or inhaled. After this, the patient is made to lie still on a table while the camera generates images. This usually takes 20 to 45 minutes.
Nuclear scan tests can be used to diagnose many conditions, as well as cancers, injuries, and infections. They can also be used to assess how organs like the heart and lungs are functioning. It may also be used to know if treatment is working.
Nuclear scan test has proven to be especially helpful in assessing:
- Heart disease.
- Brain, lung, kidney and thyroid function.
- Tumour location and progression, before and after treatment.
- To destroy diseased cells, such as cancer.
Nuclear scan procedure.
A nuclear scan test procedure starts with being injected with a tracer (a small amount of radioactive material). Alternatively, this can be given to swallow as a pill or inhaled as a gas.
The tracer may take from a few seconds to several days to collect in the part of the body that is to be scanned.
Before a nuclear scan procedure, all jewellery and metal that could interfere with the images must be removed. Also, a hospital gown may be given to wear. In some cases, own clothes may be maintained.
After this, patients are made to lie motionless on a table or sit still on a chair for the scan.
A special camera, or scanner, is used on the appropriate parts of the body to detect gamma rays from the tracer. If need be, positions will be changed to get different angles as the scanner works.
The scanner sends the information captured to computer software that creates pictures out of it, sometimes in three dimensions (3D) and with colour added for clarity.
A radiologist will review the pictures and discuss findings with the doctor.
Why a nuclear scan may be requested.
Nuclear scan test may be useful
For cancer: To show tumours and track their spread inside the body.
To check how well a treatment is working.
Nuclear scan test may also be useful in conditions such as
- Heart disease.
- Digestive illnesses.
- Gland and hormone problems.
- Certain neurological disorders, like Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, Parkinson’s and others.
Types of nuclear scan test.
The commonly used nuclear scan are:
- PET scan: This involves the injection of radioactive sugar.
- PET/CT scans: The PET scan is used to find the general areas with possible cancer activity and then the CT scan zeroes in for more detail in those areas. However, it’s a trade-off. It provides more information but exposes to more radiation.
- Bone scan: This is used to detect changes in bones, which might suggest cancer much earlier than other imaging.
- Thyroid scan: Involves the use of radioactive iodine, which goes through the blood to collect in the thyroid gland, where it helps to find thyroid cancer.
- Gallium scan: This uses gallium-67 as a tracer to scan the whole body or to look specifically at organs for signs of cancer. Places where the gallium gathers might be a sign of inflammation, infection or cancer.
- MUGA: This uses a liquid radioactive tracer to track how well the heart moves blood back out into the body. It helps to know if the heart is strong enough for certain types of chemotherapy. It might also be used to test for possible heart problems.
- Renal scan: This is used to examine the kidneys and find any abnormalities.
- Heart scan: This is used to; identify abnormal blood flow to the heart, determine the extent of heart muscle damage after a heart attack and/or to measure heart function.
- Brain scan: To investigate problems that occur within the brain and/or in the blood circulation to the brain.
- Breast scan: This is often used in conjunction with mammograms to locate cancerous tissue in the breast.
Side Effects of Nuclear Scan test
A nuclear scan test is generally safe. The radiation dose involved is usually very low and doesn’t pose any serious health risks.
Side effects of the nuclear scan are very rare, happening only in 1 in 10000 people. Side effects aren’t severe and require fewer to no medications. Some side effects are:
- Skin Rash
But most of the time, people don’t experience anything
Precautions after the nuclear scan
It becomes necessary to drink more water or coconut water, to flush out the radioactive molecules from the body. You can continue normal routine activities. You can come in contact with anyone except small babies, it will be good if you stay away from old aged and babies for 2-3 days.
Will I be radioactive after a nuclear scan test?
Yes, you will be radioactive after a nuclear scan test. But the amounts of radioactive tracers are usually small and will likely within a day.
Are nuclear scan tests safe?
Yes. Nuclear scan procedure is very safe. The radiation dose involved is usually very low and doesn’t pose any serious health risks.
How much radiation does a nuclear scan test expose people to?
A nuclear scan test exposes to very low levels of radiation for a short period of time.
It is, however, advisable to urinate frequently for 24 hours after to lessen the radiation exposure.
How long does a nuclear scan test take?
The length of a nuclear scan procedure varies. Most nuclear scan test takes 20 to 45 minutes, at most an hour
Is it safe to be around pregnant women and children after doing a nuclear scan test?
Yes. One can be around pregnant women and children after a nuclear scan test. Almost all the radiation will be gone from the body by the morning after the scan.
However, it is recommended to avoid spending extended hours in close proximity with pregnant women and small children, like sleeping next to them overnight.
Is the procedure of the nuclear scan test hurtful?
The nuclear scan procedure is usually painless. However, there may be some discomfort from having to remain still or stay in one position.
What if I am claustrophobic?
Anti-anxiety medication may be prescribed for a claustrophobic person to take on the day of the nuclear scan procedure.