Nuclear Medicine uses very small amounts of radioactive material (or tracers) called radiopharmaceuticals to help diagnose and treat a variety of diseases. Radiopharmaceuticals are substances that are attracted to specific organs, bones or tissues. Nuclear Medicine procedures are among the safest diagnostic imaging exams available. A patient only receives an extremely small amount of radiopharmaceutical, just enough to provide sufficient diagnostic information. In fact, the amount of radiation from a nuclear medicine procedure is comparable to, or often times less than, that of a diagnostic x-ray.
In a Nuclear Medicine test the radioactive material is introduced into the body by injection, swallowing or inhalation. Different tracers are used to study different parts of the body. The amount of tracer used is carefully selected to provide the least amount of radiation exposure to the patient but ensure an accurate test. The radiopharmaceuticals used in Nuclear Medicine emit gamma rays that can be detected externally by a special scintillation camera or gamma camera. The camera does this by detecting the tracer in the organ, bone or tissue being imaged and then records this information on a computer screen or on film. Generally, Nuclear Medicine tests are not recommended for pregnant women because unborn babies have a greater sensitivity to radiation than children or adults.
The amount of time needed for a procedure depends on the type of test being done. Nuclear Medicine tests are performed in three parts: tracer administration, taking the pictures, and then analyzing the images. For many tests, a certain amount of time is needed (from a few hours to a few days) for the tracer to accumulate in the part of the body being studied before the pictures can be taken. During the imaging session the time needed to obtain the pictures (from minutes to hours) will vary depending on the test ordered.
Adverse reactions, or side effects, are rare. In general, the tracer given will remain in the body for a short period of time and is cleared from the body through natural bodily functions. Drinking plenty of fluids will help clear the tracer more quickly.
The Nuclear Technologist is responsible for the camera and lab, Quality Control, receiving and all the radiopharmaceuticals, injection of the patients and accurately recording all radiopharmaceuticals preparations, administrations and disposal of radiopharmaceuticals and other radioactive waste.
In order to comply with federal and state regulations, it is required that individuals working routinely with radiation sources wear a film badge or TLD whole body radiation monitor.
The radiopharmaceuticals are delivered each day to the Hot Lab in the Nuclear Medicine Department. These isotopes (radiopharmaceuticals) are delivered in lead lined boxes as well as stored in lead syringe containers called “pigs”. This helps reduce any radiation exposure to anyone that may come in contact with the isotopes. With each shipment/delivery of doses the previous days (empty) box will be picked up and returned to the pharmacy.
It is the Nuclear Medicine Tech’s responsibility to perform all the proper incoming and outgoing Quality Control tests on the lead transport boxes to ensure that there is no radioactive contamination. The tech is also responsible for performing the required Quality Control studies inside the Hot Lab area where the isotopes and radioactive waste are stored. These isotopes when ready for use, will be properly assayed in the dose calibrator to assure proper and exact dosage for the patient.
Most of the radioactive waste resulting from the used or unused radiopharmaceutical syringes will be sent back to the pharmacy. The radioactive waste products which are a result of IV’s and contaminated items will be stored in the large lead waste can inside the hot lab. Any radioactive waste that has been stored is monitored until it has decayed to within acceptable limits (less than or equal to background levels) before it can be disposed of. Once it has decayed down to acceptable limits it can be disposed of according to the type of waste it is (trash or biohazard waste).
In case of radioactive contamination resulting from a spill, the Nuclear Medicine Technician and the Radiation Safety Officer (Dr. Vianney Villaruz) are responsible for taking the corrective action. These actions may range from simply cleaning the area of contamination to closing down the area involved in the spill and reporting the spill to the proper authorities. Anyone in the area of the spill will be notified of what to do if any actions are necessary.