What Are the Applications of Nuclear Medicine?

Article Details
  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 November 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
    Conjecture Corporation
  • Print this Article

The application of nuclear medicine has been an area of intense medical research since the late 20th century. Nuclear medicine refers to the use of radioactive isotopes in the diagnosis and treatment of many diseases and conditions, including cancer, heart disease, and organ function. The applications of nuclear medicine mostly serve diagnostic purposes, although certain diseases can also be treated with radioactive medicine.

The most common applications of nuclear medicine are found in the broad world of diagnosis. Compounds that combine radioactive isotopes with drugs, called radiopharmaceuticals, are particularly useful in creating detailed images of internal activity. A patient can take the correct radiopharmaceutical through an IV or as a pill, and it will then emit detectable radiation throughout the body. Using special cameras, the radiation is used to create an image of bone, tissue, or organs as required for diagnosis.


Some advanced imaging systems can combine diagnostic images created by more traditional CT or MRI scans with those created by radiopharmaceuticals, to create a far more complete picture of an area. The diagnostic applications of nuclear medicine include the detection and staging of cancers, visualization of blood flow and function in the heart, kidneys and lungs, and early detection of some neurological conditions, such as Alzheimer's disease. Radiopharmaceuticals are also commonly used in the detection and diagnosis of hyperthyroidism. Since the images provided by this type of scan are so detailed, nuclear medicine also helps doctors determine and plan the best form of treatment for a detected condition.

A growing field for applications of nuclear medicine is intervention treatment for cancer and other conditions. Treatment-based nuclear medicine usually uses special shortwave radioactive compounds, which can target specific areas in the body without affecting surrounding organs or body systems. This type of medicine is most commonly used for thyroid cancer and the treatment of hyperthyroidism. Other applications include the treatment of lymphatic and endocrinal cancers, and some forms of bone cancer. One radiopharmaceutical, called radioactive phosphorus or P-32, is frequently used in the treatment of blood disorders.

The applications of nuclear medicine are expected to increase as more research is performed. While the diagnostic capabilities of this medical branch can be extremely useful in the detection and analysis of abnormalities throughout the body, the available nuclear treatments remain fairly rare. Nuclear medicine remains an important area of research and discovery, aimed at providing new treatments, increasing diagnostic sensitivity, and providing less costly, non-invasive options for patients in need of diagnosis.



Discuss this Article

Post 1

A good friend of mine is a nuclear pharmacist and he has told me how much the field has changed just in the last 20 years or so. He said nuclear medicine is a growing field, with patients wanting more non-invasive procedures, and physicians looking for better, more accurate imaging and diagnostics. He said he was glad he went on to specialize in nuclear pharmacy because the job openings are numerous.

Post your comments

Post Anonymously


forgot password?