What is a Nuclear Medicine Technologist ?
Nuclear Medicine uses small amounts of radioactive materials to diagnose and treat disease. The radioactive material will localize in specific body organ systems and gives off energy as gamma rays. Images are formed using a gamma camera, which detects the gamma rays emitted from the radioactive source given to the patient. These radioactive materials can be introduced into the patients body either by intravenous injection, by mouth or inhalation. The radioactive substances that are used is determined by the part if the body under investigation. Depending on the type of scan, it may take minutes to several days to complete imaging.
Diagnostic testing takes advantage of the way the body handles the radioactive substances differently when there is a disease or pathology present with the body. In the presence of disease, the radioactive material will be distributed throughout the body and/or processed differently than in a healthy body.
Testing can be split into two broad groups:
- In-vivo tests are measurements directly involving the patient.
- In-vitro tests are measurements of samples taken from the patient (e.g. blood, urine, breath).
The Nuclear Medicine Technologist is responsible for all aspects of Nuclear Medicine except for reporting the actual study. This responsibility falls to the Nuclear Medicine Radiologist, a physician of radiology with a specialty in nuclear medicine. The technologist generally has to prepare the radioactive products by adding the radioactive component to individually prepared kits, purchased from a manufacturer, for specific body parts or organs. The radioactive component used to create the kits is found on a generator that is shipped from the manufacturer. Once the radioactive kits are made each day, quality control has to be performed to insure the integrity of the product for safe use. The gamma camera and other instruments used to detect the radioactive materials also have to have quality control testing performed on a regular basis. The technologist is also responsible for the administration of the radioactive material and the imaging. Another responsibility of the technologist is in regard to radiation safety. There are many strict regulations and acts that define the use of radioactive materials that must be followed for the safety of the patients and the workers. This involves daily monitoring, proper signage, education, clean up and lots of other duties to ensure everyones safety.
Nuclear Medicine may be used to identify many different types of abnormalities. The following are some examples of how nuclear medicine can be utilized.
- Bone scans to examine tumors, metabolic disease and orthopedic injuries.
- Cardiac imaging to access blood flow to the heart muscle, measure cardiac function and determine extent of damage after a heart attack.
- Lung scans for respiratory and blood flow problems
- Many different scans may be used to determine the presence and spread of cancer
- Thyroid imaging and measurements are used to detect thyroid dysfunction
- Infection and/or inflammation throughout the body may be detected by using the patients own blood cells by attaching a radioactive component to the cells
- Renal imaging allows for assessment of kidney function
- Gallbladder and liver imaging assess function and pathology