imaging embraces several procedures that aid in diagnosing ailments, the
most familiar being the x-ray. In nuclear medicine, radionuclides --
unstable atoms that emit radiation spontaneously -- are used to diagnose
and treat disease. Radionuclides are purified and compounded to form
radiopharmaceuticals. Nuclear medicine technologists administer
radiopharmaceuticals to patients and then monitor the characteristics
and functions of tissues or organs in which the drugs localize. Abnormal
areas show higher-than-expected or lower-than-expected concentrations of
radioactivity. Nuclear medicine differs from other diagnostic imaging
technologies because it determines the presence of disease on the basis
of metabolic changes rather than changes in organ structure.
technologists operate cameras that detect and map the radioactive drug
in a patient's body to create diagnostic images. After explaining test
procedures to patients, technologists prepare a dosage of the
radiopharmaceutical and administer it by mouth, injection, inhalation,
or other means. They position patients and start a gamma scintillation
camera, or "scanner," which creates images of the distribution of a
radiopharmaceutical as it localizes in, and emits signals from, the
patient's body. The images are produced on a computer screen or on film
for a physician to interpret.
radiopharmaceuticals, technologists adhere to safety standards that keep
the radiation exposure as low as possible to workers and patients.
Technologists keep patient records and document the amount and type of
radionuclides that they receive, use, and discard.
There are two areas of
specialty for nuclear medicine technologists—nuclear cardiology and
positron emission tomography (PET). Nuclear cardiology typically
involves myocardial perfusion imaging, which, like most nuclear
medicine, uses radiopharmaceuticals and cameras to image the body.
Myocardial perfusion imaging, however, requires that patients perform
exercise so the technologist can image the heart and blood flow.
Technologists specializing in PET operate a special medical imaging
device that produces a 3-D image of the body.
Note: Some resources in this section are provided by the US Department
of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.