Nuclear Medicine

Nuclear imaging tests are noninvasive procedures that help your doctor diagnose and evaluate medical conditions. In these tests, you receive a very small amount of a safe radioactive material designed to go to a specific place in your body. Then, a special camera—a gamma camera— tracks the path of the material, called a radiotracer, to show how your organs and tissues work.

Nuclear medicine techniques also can be used to treat some conditions, including cancer.

All outpatient nuclear imaging procedures are performed at Wake Radiology UNC REX Healthcare locations. To learn more or schedule an appointment, visit

Advanced Nuclear Imaging Technology

Your nuclear imaging test will use one of the two major types of equipment—positron emission tomography (PET) or single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT)

Both PET and SPECT create three-dimension images by taking multiple scans of your body at different angles with gamma cameras, but they use different types of radiotracers. The type of scan you receive will depend on your specific condition.

We also offer combination PET/CT scans and SPECT/CT scans. These tests use a computed tomography (CT) scan in the same exam, providing more precise information to help your doctor make an accurate diagnosis.

When Are PET and SPECT scans used?

Nuclear imaging tests show the structure and function of your internal organs, tissues, bones and circulatory and nervous systems. The procedures provide detailed information that can help your doctor accurately diagnose a condition very early in the progression of a disease, so you can get the best possible treatment. Your doctor may order a PET or SPECT scan to:

  • Check brain function and diagnose brain disorders
  • Diagnose cancer and see how it’s responding to treatment
  • Detect conditions of the heart, liver and other internal organs
  • Evaluate bone conditions, including broken bones
  • Identify sites of seizures, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease

Tell your doctor if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. He or she will tell you if it’s OK to get a nuclear imaging test.

Nuclear Imaging Scan: What to Expect

You’ll receive specific instructions on how to prepare for your procedure. Follow them carefully to help your doctor get the best, most accurate images.

Before your scan, you’ll be asked to receive an injection, swallow or inhale a radiotracer. Depending on your specific test, you may need to wait a few minutes or a few days for the tracer to travel through your body.

When it’s time to take the images, you’ll be positioned on an examination table and a scanner will take a series of images. Some machines rotate around you; others may require you change positions between images. You’ll need to stay very still while pictures are being taken to avoid blurry images.

Some exams take as little as a half-hour; others are conducted over several days.

Your Nuclear Imaging Results

A radiologist will interpret your results and give a report to your doctor. Your doctor will share the results with you and discuss any follow-up care.

Nuclear Medicine Therapies at UNC REX Healthcare

When treating disease, nuclear medicine relies on techniques similar to those used to diagnose medical conditions. Nuclear therapies employ radioactive substances that target a certain part of your body. You may benefit from nuclear medicine treatments if you have certain types of cancer or hemophilia. Take advantage of:

  • Bone pain palliation therapy – Helps relieve bone pain in cancer patients
  • Intra-articular therapy – Treats hemophilia, a disorder in which your blood doesn’t clot normally
  • Radioiodine therapy – Treats hyperthyroidism and thyroid cancer by destroying tissue in your thyroid gland
  • Radioimmunotherapy (RIT) – Delivers a low dose of radiation directly to a tumor; used to treat low-grade lymphoma

Learn about minimally invasive treatments performed by vascular interventional radiologists at UNC REX Healthcare.