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Definition

Nuclear medicine imaging

Nuclear medicine involves imaging using gamma rays, which are another type of electromagnetic radiation.  The important difference between gamma rays and X-rays is that gamma rays are produced from within the nucleus of an atom when an unstable nucleus decays, whereas X-rays are produced by bombarding an atom with electrons. For an area to be visualized, the patient must receive a gamma ray emitter, which must have a number of properties to be useful, including:

 - a reasonable half-life (e.g., 6 to 24 hours);

 - an easily measurable gamma ray; and

 - energy deposition in as low a dose as possible in the patient's tissues.

The most commonly used radionuclide (radioisotope) is technetium-99m. This may be injected as a technetium salt or combined with other complex molecules.

For example, by combining technetium-99m with methylene diphosphonate (MDP), a radiopharmaceutical is produced. When injected into the body this radiopharmaceutical specifically binds to bone, allowing assessment of the skeleton.

Similarly, combining technetium-99m with other compounds permits assessment of other parts of the body, for example the urinary tract and cerebral blood flow.

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