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Nuclear scans are safe imaging techniques that use radioactive tracers to form images of the inside of your body.

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Nuclear imaging scan guide: nuclear medicine scan definition

Nuclear imaging scans are both painless and extremely helpful in diagnosing and treating many health conditions. Nuclear medicine radiologists use nuclear imaging scans to measure organ function and visualize structures inside your body. Nuclear imaging scans can also help doctors create a treatment plan for your diagnosis and give you peace of mind.

What is nuclear medicine?

Nuclear medicine is an umbrella term under which many medical imaging procedures fall. Nuclear imaging is often used to diagnose conditions and measure the success of treatments. During each of these imaging procedures, radiologists administer a controlled amount of radioactive material, sometimes called radionuclides or tracers. The scan detects how your body responds to and absorbs this radioactive material. It then produces images of the focus area inside your body and how it's functioning.

Before a nuclear medicine scan, you will receive a small amount of radioactive tracer from your radiologist. You may swallow or inhale this material, or your radiologist may inject you with this agent. Afterward, you may lie on a table while you receive the nuclear scan. Your radiologist may ask you to remain completely still during your scan to make sure they’re able to get the best images possible.

Bodily tissues affected by disease, such as cancer, may absorb more of a radioactive tracer than non-infected parts of your body, which will show on your scan and help your doctor make a correct diagnosis. This is one way that nuclear scans can help physicians identify and diagnose conditions.

Nuclear medicine scan types

There are multiple types of nuclear imaging scans, such as (but not limited to):

  • Nuclear imaging stress tests
  • Heart scans (such as a nuclear ventriculography)
  • Bone scans
  • PET scans
  • Pulmonary scans
  • Thyroid scans

What can a nuclear scan detect?

Nuclear scans help doctors diagnose a variety of conditions. Some of these conditions may include certain types of cancers, injuries to the bones or soft tissues, and infections.

Besides detecting irregularities in your body’s systems and structures, doctors also use nuclear scans to check whether current treatments are treating a medical condition effectively. If your doctor determines that the current course of treatment isn't working, they may adjust your treatment plan accordingly.

How much does a nuclear scan cost?

The cost of a nuclear scan will depend on various factors, including which type of nuclear scan you’re receiving, whether or not you have insurance coverage, your provider, and where on your body you’re receiving your scan. To find out more about how much your nuclear scan will cost, either contact your chosen provider or insurance company.

It’s okay to shop around for the best nuclear scan price. At scan.com we partner with reputable nuclear scan providers in your area to ensure that you can find a high-quality scan center.

Nuclear scan safety & risks

Each type of nuclear scan requires the ingestion of very small amounts of radioactive material. Though you are exposed to ionized radiation in your daily life, added amounts of ionized radiation through nuclear testing methods may make you more prone to developing certain cancers later on in life.

Most research on the impact of radiation on your chances for developing cancer involves large amounts of radiation. The effects of low doses of radiation are currently too small to observe or may be entirely nonexistent. Overall, if a physician suggests you receive any type of nuclear scan, they have determined that this is vital for properly diagnosing and treating your condition (or suspected condition).

No matter what, before getting your scan, be sure to give your doctor a thorough medical history and tell them whether you suffer from any medical conditions or are pregnant. You may also wish to tell your doctor whether you have any surgical implants.

How to find a nuclear imaging center near you

Finding a nuclear imaging center doesn't need to be difficult. With the help of scan.com, you can easily search for radiology centers near you using the scan search tool.


  1. https://medlineplus.gov/nuclearscans.html#summary
  2. https://www.cancer.org/treatment/understanding-your-diagnosis/tests/nuclear-medicine-scans-for-cancer.html
  3. http://hps.org/documents/Medical_Exposures_Fact_Sheet.pdf

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