Very simply, nuclear medicine uses small doses of radioactive materials to diagnose and treat diseases in the human body. Nuclear medicine is used for diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, urinary tract obstruction, and coronary artery disease; detection of heart transplant rejection, lung transplant rejection, and pulmonary complications of AIDS; locating tumors; relieving bone pain caused by cancer; and evaluating valvular heart disease, among many others. Once the radioactive materials are administered in the body, special equipment is used to visualize the area with the radioactivity. Since radioactive materials can be extremely dangerous, there are limits up to which a person can take these materials without sustaining any damage.
Children may also use nuclear medicine for detection of bladder and kidney infections. Nuclear medicine has been performed on infants as well. Depending on what type of condition the infants were in, some mothers had to stop breastfeeding after the nuclear medicines were distributed. It is to be remembered that any time one deals with potentially harmful materials he/she must be cautious.
Nuclear medicine is evolving where many different types of sciences and practices are adapting nuclear medicine in their procedures to treat those in need. The nuclear scientists carefully examine the patients and determine what their specific problems are, and then distribute the nuclear medicine accordingly. Many people would think radioactive materials swallowed, inhaled, or injected in a person’s body would be very harmful, but in actuality the procedure is painless and safe. Technically speaking, a small dosage is given to the patient and that emits radiation, which is detected by a gamma camera, and pictures are then taken. There are different size gamma cameras depending on how and what types of pictures are needed to be taken.
Those who are injected with the radiopharmaceuticals will not glow neon green afterwards like the Incredible Hulk. A person who receives nuclear medicine treatment will not glow in the dark either. The best way to get rid of the remaining radioactive materials in the system is to urinate frequently to flush them out.
One of the medical devices used to perform nuclear medicine procedures is called a PET or positron emission tomography. This is a type of scan that uses a special type of camera and a tracer (radioactive chemical) to look at organs in the body.
In the field of nuclear medicine, education and training would be very extensive and would require many years of practice. Associates’ and bachelors’ degrees are offered for nuclear medicine with additional certifications available from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists or ARRT and the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board or NMTCB. ARRT offers certification in thirty-five states currently. There are also numerous Nuclear Medicine Technology programs in one, two, or four-year certifications available. Nuclear medicine technologists operate the equipment needed to see into the patients’ bodies.
Those who wish to be certified by the American Board of Nuclear Medicine or ABNM must already have a medical degree in another field of medicine other then nuclear medicine The American Board of Nuclear Medicine establishes standards and certification for all physicians in nuclear medicine. Training in radiopharmacy, diagnostic studies, and radiation biology, is also required for nuclear medicine physicians.
The number of nuclear medicine scientists is expected to increase over the next decade due to the advances in the technologies becoming available. There are currently 20,000 nuclear medicine technologists and that number should increase to around 23,000 in another decade.
Radiochemists are a part of the nuclear medicine field as well. Radiochemists develop, produce, and improve radiopharmaeuticals.
Nuclear medicine is one more option used to treat and diagnose diseases. Nuclear medicines differ from x-ray machines in that they determine the presence of diseases through biological changes, and not through changes in the anatomy. Currently, there are over 5,000 nuclear medicine centers, with about 18 million nuclear medicine procedures being performed per year. Performing nuclear medicine is becoming more cost effective these days. Those who consult their doctors may have nuclear medicine performed more than once a year depending on their situation. Above all nuclear medicine is safe and is practiced on a regular basis by qualified professionals looking to improve the human condition.