Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging

What is nuclear medicine and molecular imaging? 

Molecular imaging is a type of medical imaging that provides detailed pictures of what is happening inside the body at the molecular and cellular level. Where other diagnostic imaging procedures—such as x-rays, computed tomography (CT) and ultrasound—offer pictures of physical structure, molecular imaging allows physicians to see how the body is functioning and to measure its chemical and biological processes.

Molecular imaging includes the field of nuclear medicine, which uses very small amounts of radioactive materials (radiopharmaceuticals) to diagnose and treat disease. In nuclear medicine imaging, the radiopharmaceuticals are detected by special types of cameras that work with computers to provide very precise pictures of the area of the body being imaged. Nuclear medicine can also be used to treat certain types of cancer and other diseases.

Molecular imaging offers unique insights into the human body that enable physicians to personalize patient care. In terms of diagnosis, molecular imaging is able to:

  • Provide information that is unattainable with other imaging technologies or that would require more invasive procedures such as biopsy or surgery
  • Identify disease in its earliest stages and determine the exact location of a tumor, often before symptoms occur or abnormalities can be detected with other diagnostic tests

As a tool for evaluating and managing the care of patients, molecular imaging studies help physicians:

  • Determine the extent or severity of the disease, including whether it has spread elsewhere in the body
  • Select the most effective therapy based on the unique biologic characteristics of the patient and the molecular properties of a tumor or other disease
  • Determine a patient’s response to specific drugs
  • Accurately assess the effectiveness of a treatment regimen
  • Adapt treatment plans quickly in response to changes in cellular activity
  • Assess disease progression
  • Identify recurrence of disease and help manage ongoing care
  • Molecular imaging procedures—which are noninvasive, safe and painless—are used to diagnose and manage the treatment of Cancer, Heart disease, Brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, Gastrointestinal disorders, Lung disorders, Bone disorders, Kidney disorders and Thyroid disorders, and more.

How safe is nuclear medicine and molecular imaging?

Molecular imaging procedures are noninvasive and very safe.

When used, the amount of radioactivity used in nuclear medicine procedures is very small. The radiation risk is very low compared with the potential benefits. There are no known long-term side effects from nuclear medicine procedures, which have been performed for more than 50 years. Allergic reactions may occur but are extremely rare and usually mild.

All of our nuclear medicine technologists are certified by the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board. These professionals will go over safety information with you before your test, such as frequently asked questions and safety guidelines by age.

Imaging agents are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Tests and procedures we offer

We provide a wide range of tests. These include:

  • Bone scan, an imaging test that safely uses a very small amount of radiopharmaceutical injected into a vein to help diagnose bone problems
  • Captopril renogram, which measures blood flow and blood pressure in the kidneys
  • Gastric emptying study, which measures the time it takes for food to leave the stomach
  • Hepatobiliary iminodiacetic acid (HIDA) scan, which measures gallbladder blockages and function
  • Liver and spleen scan, a procedure which provides information about the size of the liver along with information about liver function
  • Multigated acquisition (MUGA) scan, which measures how well the heart pumps blood
  • Parathyroid scan, which examines the small parathyroid glands in the neck
  • Pharmacologic nuclear stress test, which measures blood flow to the heart and how well the heart pumps blood
  • Renal scan, or renogram, which measures kidney function
  • Thyroid uptake and scan, which measures the size, shape, and function of the thyroid
  • Ventilation/perfusion lung scan, or a ventilation-perfusion (VQ) scan, which is a nuclear medicine scan that uses radioactive material (radiopharmaceutical) to examine airflow (ventilation) and blood flow (perfusion) in the lungs. The aim of the scan is to look for evidence of any blood clot in the lungs, called pulmonary embolism (PE).
  • For further questions about any procedures listed above or any procedures not listed here, please contact the applicable Nuclear Medicine department.
    • Henry Ford Hospital: (313) 916-1288
    • Henry Ford Macomb Hospital: (586) 263-2464
    • Henry Ford Medical Center - Fairlane: (313) 982-4416
    • Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital: (248) 325-3750
    • Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital: (734) 246-9152
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