Ages 14-18: Educational Resources
Nuclear medicine is a specialty branch of medicine that uses small amounts of radioactive isotopes to diagnose diseases including cancer, heart diseases and other illnesses.
Depending on the type of exam, radioactive isotopes are combined with other chemical compounds to form radiopharmaceuticals. These are given to patients by injection or as a pill. Once inside the patient, the radiopharmaceuticals give off radiation. This radiation is detected by special equipment such as gamma cameras or PET scanners. These devices will create pictures of organs, tissues and other internal structures a doctor couldn’t see otherwise.
This might sound scary, but keep in mind, radioactive isotopes aren’t allowed to be used unless they’re considered safe by Health Canada. Doctors and nuclear medicine specialists ensure that patients do not receive excessive radiation from these procedures.
In some cases, radioactive isotopes are also used to treat illnesses, such as thyroid cancer.
Nuclear medicine is often considered a good option to diagnose and treat illnesses because it is less invasive for patients than some of the alternatives, such as surgery.