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What is Nuclear Medicine?
What is Nuclear Medicine?

Nuclear Medicine is a diagnostic medical imaging and treatment speciality. It combines elements of applied anatomy and physiology, chemistry, physics, mathematics and computing with patient care skills.

Radioactive tracers are administered to patients in order to diagnose and/or treat disease. Nuclear Medicine differs from other imaging techniques such as X-ray and CT by giving different information about the function of the systems of the body. However, as imaging technology advances, close correlation with radiological techniques is essential.

The use of these radioactive tracers is closely monitored. The techniques are very safe both for the patient and for the technologist. <\p>

Follow the link below to view an illustrated introduction to Nuclear Medicine.

Nuclear Medicine covers the whole spectrum of medical diagnostic and investigational use of "unsealed" radionuclides, plus their therapeutic applications and the Society is committed to its safe practice and high quality throughout the United Kingdom.

Nuclear Medicine is older than CT, MRI and ultrasound.  It was first used in patients over 60 years ago.

Nuclear Medicine Imaging 

 A Gamma Camera    A PET CT Scanner


Unlike most other methods of imaging the body, nuclear medicine describes organ function as well as structure.  This often makes earlier diagnosis possible.


Nuclear Medicine Therapies 

Radiopharmaceuticals can be used to treat certain diseases. In Europe the main therapies are:

  • Thyroid cancer and Hyperthyroidism
  • Lymphoma
  • Cancer bone pain
  • Joint pain and arthritis

The number of nuclear medicine therapies being developed and approved is increasing.

 What is Nuclear medicine poster

A technetium bone scan showing tumours

What is Radiation Protection

Medical physicists play an essential role in enabling many different types of radiation to be used for the diagnostic and therapeutic benefit of the patient without danger to the staff or to members of the public. This includes the use of diagnostic X-ray, radiotherapy, radioisotopes, lasers and ultraviolet radiation.

Measurements and calculations of doses received by patients and staff, surveys of the working environment, and monitoring of equipment involving radiation are all used to provide evidence of good working practice and compliance with the regulatory requirements governing the uses of radiation. Such types of dosimetry present special problems because of the low levels of radiation that can be encountered. In most medical physics departments, the radiation protection work is carried out by staff with prior or concurrent experience of the diagnostic and therapeutic applications of radiation.

Certain senior medical physicists are designated as Radiation Protection Advisers to advise employing authorities on all matters concerning radiation protection.

When new equipment, buildings or updated techniques are introduced, whether in diagnosis or treatment, the Radiation Protection Adviser gives expert advice aimed at achieving an optimal exploitation of advances in radiation science and technology, taking into account not only the possible hazards but also the potential benefits to the patient.

Advice is also given on the most safe and optimum way of disposing used radioactive materials and waste products resulting from the administration of radioactive materials to patients for diagnostic or therapeutic purposes.

The tragic episode at Chernobyl demonstrated the value of a radiation protection organisation working with the hospital service and able to make measurement and give informed advice including, where appropriate, reassurance to patients and members of the public following any accidental release of radioactivity.

link to IAEA Radiological Protection of Patients

Find out more about the history of Nuclear Medicine


© 2013 BNMS unless otherwise stated.
The BNMS is a registered as a company in England and Wales with number 08082786.  The BNMS is a charity governed by the rules of the Charity Commission for England and Wales - Registered Number 1150234.  Registered Office: The Royal College of Physicians, 11 St. Andrew's Place, Regent's Park, London NW1 4LE.
The British Nuclear Medicine Society is not able to give specific clinical advice to members of the public. If you are concerned about your scan or therapy please seek the opinion of a nuclear medicine clinician where you were seen or the clinician who referred you to the department or your GP.
Enquiries related to issues such as internships and work experience opportunities, should be directed to the relevant professional body e.g., for radiologists, this will be the Royal College of Radiologists.