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Nuclear Medicine Exams

Nuclear medicine uses a small amount of radioactive material (called a radiotracer) to diagnose and treat various conditions, including many cancers. Used at these low levels, the radiotracer is safe.

These tests provide unique images of molecular activity within an organ and are often able to detect cancers and other diseases at the earliest stages. At Barnes-Jewish Hospital, we use a combination of advanced radiotracers and the latest imaging technology for the most accurate diagnoses possible.

Nuclear Medicine: Why Choose Us?

When you come to the Washington University Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, you will find:

  • Advanced technology: Our nuclear medicine department uses the most advanced technology available, including the new CZT SPEC/CT system that can pinpoint even the smallest abnormalities. 
  • Experienced team: Every member of the nuclear medicine team is registered by the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board, signifying a high level of expertise and experience. Meet our radiology team.
  • Pioneering treatments: Advances in the radioactive material used in our nuclear medicine procedures allow radiologists to get clearer images of cancer cell activity. These images lead to a more accurate diagnosis and targeted treatment. 
  • Respected academic institution: Barnes-Jewish Hospital’s affiliation with Washington University means that we care for a high volume of complex and difficult cases. Our radiologists are able to recognize and treat patients with rare diseases that other hospitals might not be equipped to handle. 

Nuclear Medicine: What to Expect?

Here’s what you can expect when you come in for your nuclear medicine exam:

  • Receiving the radioactive substance: Before your test, you’ll be given a small dose of radiotracer by injection, swallowing or inhaling a gas. If the radiotracer is injected into your arm, you might feel a cold sensation moving up your arm. If the radiotracer is swallowed, it has little or no taste. If inhaled, you should feel no differently than when breathing normally.
  • Letting it take effect: It can take anywhere from several seconds to several days for the radiotracer to travel through your body and accumulate in the organ or area being studied. As a result, imaging might be done immediately, a few hours later or even several days after you've received the radioactive material. We will discuss this with you when you schedule your test. 
  • During the test: A technologist will help you onto the screening table and make sure you’re comfortable. Once the exam begins, you will need to remain still until the exam is over. The technologist will be in another room, but will remain in contact with you through an intercom. You will also be given a call button to talk to the technologist at any time.
  • Equipment used: The equipment may depend on the type of test you are having:
    • Gamma camera: We perform most nuclear medicine exams using a gamma camera, a specialized camera that is capable of detecting radiation and taking pictures from different angles. The camera may be located within a large, donut-shaped scanner similar in appearance to a computed tomography (CT) or MRI scanner. 
    • PET scanner: We perform some nuclear medicine exams using a positron emission tomography (PET) scanner. Within this machine are multiple rings of detectors that record the emission (release) of energy from the radiotracer in your body. If the exam is only on a small area of the body, we may use a handheld probe that detects the radiotracer. 

Preparing for Your Nuclear Medicine Appointment

Before you come in for a nuclear medicine exam, please follow this checklist:

  • Bring these documents to your appointment:
    • Photo ID (driver’s license or state ID)
    • Insurance card(s)
    • A completed Medication Record
  • Medication: Take your medication as you normally do, unless your referring physician has told you otherwise.
  • Be prepared to discuss your medical history: We may ask you about your completed Medication Record, allergies and any previous surgeries. Women should always inform their physician and the nuclear medicine technologist if there is any possibility that they are pregnant.
  • Dress comfortably: Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing to your exam. In some cases, you will be given a hospital gown to wear during the procedure.
  • Remove jewelry: Jewelry and other metallic accessories can interfere with the procedure and should be left at home or removed before the exam. You will be given a place to store your items before the procedure.

Contact Us

New patients: To schedule an appointment, please call 314.362.7111 or toll free at 877.992.7111. Please note: You or your referring physician will need to provide a referral order before your appointment.

Current nuclear medicine patients: Please call the nuclear medicine department at 314.454.8945 with any questions about your nuclear medicine exam. Get all the patient information you need, including additional contact information and maps to our locations.

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