Nuclear medicine

Having a nuclear medicine scan

What is a nuclear medicine scan?

Nuclear medicine provides a wide range of diagnostic scans all of which provide information that indicate how the body is working. Scans are performed following the administration of a radio-pharmaceutical using a gamma camera.     

Nuclear medicine also performs therapeutic procedures that are primarily involved in the treatment of a range of thyroid conditions.

When you arrive

Kent and Canterbury Hospital

The nuclear medicine department is situated at the far end of the hospital towards the outpatient clinics, junction 13 on the hospital map. When you arrive please report to the reception desk.

William Harvey Hospital

The nuclear medicine department is situated within the yellow zone of the hospital, inside the radiology area. On arrival please report to the nuclear medicine reception desk. If a receptionist is not present please take a seat in the nuclear medicine waiting area and a technologist will be with you shortly.  

Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital

Please report to the reception desk in the Radiology department upon arrival. This is situated close to the Ramsgate Road entrance to the hospital. The receptionist will give you a white card to take to the nuclear medicine waiting area. Once inside the technologists will know you have entered the waiting room and will be with you shortly.    

How does nuclear medicine imaging work?

Nuclear medicine imaging relies primarily on functional processes within the body. Generally, a radio-pharmaceutical will be injected into a vein, although it may also be ingested or inhaled depending on the scan being performed. The radio-pharmaceutical will be processed naturally by the body. An image of the distribution of the radio-pharmaceutical is produced using a gamma camera.  

For example, a bone scan involves an injection of a radio-pharmaceutical that contains nutrients that the body uses to form new bone cells. This enables the whole skeleton to be visualised as the body continually replaces old cells with new ones – much like the skin cells on your hand. If the body uses more nutrients in an area, for example to repair a broken bone, then this area will be highlighted as a ‘hotspot’ in the final image. This process makes a nuclear medicine bone scan a very sensitive way of studying the skeleton.

Are there any risks or complications?

The risk of having a nuclear medicine scan is comparable to that of having an x-ray or CT scan, depending on the type of scan you have. The radiation exposure is small and the radiopharmaceutical will not make you feel any different.

What if I am pregnant?

Please inform staff prior to the radio-pharmaceutical administration if you think you are pregnant or if you think you might be pregnant. If you are female and between the ages of 12 to 55 you will asked if you are pregnant.   

What if I am breastfeeding? 

If your are breast feeding it may be necessary for you to stop for a period of hours after the radiopharmaceutical administration. This is because some of the radio-pharmaceutical may be present in your breast milk. If this is the case you may wish to express milk for the short time period when it is not advisable for you to breast feed your baby. If you have any concerns please contact the nuclear medicine reception at Kent and Canterbury hospital.          

Why do I need a nuclear medicine scan?

There are a wide variety of reasons for requiring a nuclear medicine scan. These scans will provide functional information that will enable the doctor who has referred you to care for you appropriately.   

Who will be doing the nuclear medicine scan?

The scan and radio-pharmaceutical administration will be performed by a nuclear medicine technologist at both the WHH and QEQM sites. At K and C a consultant or nurse may also perform the radio-pharmaceutical administration and the scan will be performed by a nuclear medicine technologist. The scan will be reported by one of our nuclear medicine consultants.    

How do I prepare for a nuclear medicine scan?

Your appointment letter will advise you on what to do and what not to do before your scan. Please read it carefully as some scans will not be possible to perform if the advice on the appointment letter has not been followed.

Generally for our scans it is best to wear clothing with either none, or small amounts of metal. For example, zips and bras are generally acceptable but jeans with big metal buttons should be avoided. Gowns may be provided if required.    

Can I bring a relative or friend?

Yes. During most scans it is acceptable for relatives or friends to be present in the scanning room. Ideally the relative or friend you bring with you would not be pregnant. If you have any concerns please contact the nuclear medicine reception at Kent and Canterbury hospital.    

What happens during a nuclear medicine scan?

A nuclear medicine scan will generally involve an injection, although the radio-pharmaceutical may also be ingested or inhaled. Generally a nuclear medicine scan will involve lying down on our imaging bed, remaining still and breathing normally. The scan itself does not involve any loud noises or a tunnel. As you remain still the gamma camera will gradually build up the images required.  

How long will it take?

Scan durations vary from ten minutes to up to an hour. Your appointment will state the estimated duration of your scan. Many of our scans also involve an uptake period to enable the radio-pharmaceutical to be processed by the body. This time period will be indicated on your appointment letter.   

When will I get the results?

The consultant's report will take a week to ten days to get back to the doctor that referred you to us. The referring doctor will then communicate the results back to you.

Where can I get more information?