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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, oral route or inhalation, the patient is placed in a dedicated 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.  Thirty-four FDA-approved, commercially available radiopharmaceuticals are available to image a variety of processes such as tumor metabolism, bone turnover, cardiac perfusion, brain function, pulmonary perfusion and ventilation, and endocrine functions. In other words nuclear medicine imaging is functional imaging informing us on the function of organs or disease processes.

The two main technologies used to generate these images are SPECT/CT and PET/CT.  These are called hybrid imaging scanners because they combine a functional imaging tool (SPECT or PET) with an anatomic imaging tool CT (Computed Tomography) also known as a CAT scan.  The combination of both 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 to patients for treatment of a variety of diseases such as hyperthyroidism, thyroid cancer, liver cancers, prostate cancer metastases to bone, neuroendocrine tumors and certain lymphomas.

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 develop new imaging protocols to address unmet clinical needs and to answer new clinical and scientific questions as they arise. 

Strengths of our UW nuclear medicine division include:

  1. Unique technical capabilities at UWMC (1 PET/CT, 4 state-of-the-art SPECT/CT systems).
  2. Dual-trained technologists capable of performing both functional (PET, SPECT) and anatomic scans (CT).
  3. Tremendous clinical experience of nuclear medicine faculty in answering complex imaging questions.
  4. A much broader range of services offered than any other nuclear medicine division 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.