UW Radiology

What is Nuclear Medicine

Nuclear Medicine is a medical and imaging specialty in which radiopharmaceuticals (molecules tagged with a radioactive marker) are administered to patients either for diagnosis or treatment of diseases. Once administered for diagnosis either by injection, orally or by inhalation, the patient is placed in a dedicated hybrid camera (SPECT/CT or PET/CT), which captures radiation emitted from the body to generate images of the radiopharmaceutical distribution. From these images alterations in biological processes can be identified and diseases diagnosed or monitored during treatment.  Numerous FDA-approved commercially available radiopharmaceuticals are used to image a variety of processes, including but not limited to tumor metabolism, bone turnover, cardiac perfusion, brain function, pulmonary perfusion and ventilation, and endocrine functions.

The two main technologies used to generate these images are SPECT/CT and PET/CT which combine a functional imaging tool (SPECT or PET) with an anatomic imaging tool CT (Computed Tomography). The combination of both imaging scanners allows for a more thorough assessment of disease and therefore unique diagnostic capabilities unmatched by any other imaging equipment.

The other aspect of nuclear medicine consists of therapies in which radioactive molecules are administered for treatment of a variety of diseases such as hyperthyroidism, thyroid cancer, liver cancers, prostate cancer metastases to bone, neuroendocrine tumors and certain lymphomas. Lu-177 PSMA for treatment of metastatic prostate cancer is currently awaiting FDA approval for use in the United States.

Over 100 different imaging and therapeutic protocols are in place at UW Medicine to care for patients. The UW Division of Nuclear Medicine continues to innovate and develop novel imaging protocols in response to unmet clinical needs and new medical advances.

Strengths of our UW nuclear medicine division include:

  1. Unique technical capabilities in PET/CT and SPECT/CT scanners. A PET/MRI scanner is scheduled to be installed in 2023.
  2. Dual-trained technologists capable of performing both functional (PET, SPECT) and anatomic scans (CT).
  3. Extensive clinical experience of nuclear medicine faculty in answering complex medical management questions using hybrid imaging.
  4. A much broader range of services offered than at any other nuclear medicine facility in the region. Our division ranks among the very best in the nation with continued clinical growth and diversification. This is underscored by the fact that top equipment manufacturers look to us and to our nuclear medicine faculty (physics and clinical) for input regarding the future of the discipline.
  5. A proven track record of clinical service excellence.