Nuclear Medicine

Nuclear Medicine is an innovative way to look inside your body. It uses a gamma camera and radiation to see if your body's systems are working properly.

Before the test, you will drink a radioactive liquid or have it injected into your body. This radioactive material is safe - it gives off a small amount of radiation, similar to and in some cases less than x-rays. The camera tracks this radiation as it flows through your body and the measurements are used to understand your health.

There are several kinds of nuclear medicine exams, and each looks at a specific part of the body:

  • Bone scan - finds breaks, tumors and other bone conditions that x-rays may miss. You will be given an injection, and in a few hours, technologists will be able to measure the effect of the agent on the bones.
  • Gallium scan - looks at how the heart, lungs and blood vessels are working. You receive an injection of gallium and return two to five days later for imaging. Images may be taken of only a specific body part, or the doctor may look at your whole body.
  • Thyroid uptake scan - checks to see if your thyroid gland is working well. You swallow a small amount of radioactive iodine and then come back the next day. This exam takes about an hour.
  • Cardiac studies - several kinds of scans that check the heart and blood vessels. One of the primary ways is a stress test. After the injection of a radioactive agent, you are measured right away. Then you exercise and are measured again. You are then checked later, when you are at rest. This lets us watch blood flow around the heart during different states of activity and checks for blockages or coronary artery disease.
  • Gall bladder scan - checks the gallbladder for tumors or gallstones. This exam can be done within one day.

What is it like to have a nuclear medicine exam?

This depends greatly on the kind of exam required. In most cases, the test takes one to three hours from beginning to end. For some exams, you'll be given an injection or asked to swallow something in a short visit, and then come back at a later date for imaging. Some exams include having you go through a chamber like an MRI or CT scan machine, while others focus on a specific body area. In all cases, you'll need to hold still during the imaging.

Your results will be looked at by trained Nuclear Medicine Technologists, who will analyze the images created and share their findings with your doctor within a few days.

How should I prepare?

Talk to your doctor about the best way to prepare. In many cases, you'll be asked to avoid food after midnight the day of the test. For stress tests, you'll be asked to avoid caffeine and you may need to stop taking medications. Check with your doctor about what you should do.

Diabetics, pregnant women and nursing mothers should talk to their doctor before having nuclear medicine imaging.

Radiology info

For additional information about your test please visit the RadiologyInfo website.

Referral information for physicians

You can make a referral for your patients by calling 617-665-1298.

    Contact Us

  • CHA Cambridge Hospital

    1493 Cambridge St. Cambridge, MA 02139

    Outpatient Hours
    M - F: 7 am - 4 pm

  • CHA Everett Hospital

    103 Garland St. Everett, MA 02149

    Outpatient Hours
    M - Th: 7 am - 3:30pm

    Schedule an Appointment
    (617) 665-1298

    Please note: to schedule an appointment, you must have a referral order from a primary care provider or specialist.