Nuclear Medicine

Nuclear medicine is a specialized area of radiology that uses very small amounts of radioactive materials, or radiopharmaceuticals, to examine organ function and structure. This branch of radiology is often used to help diagnose and treat a wide variety of illnesses and conditions. Houston Methodist offers the full range of nuclear medicine scans, with some of the more common studies described below.

Bone Scans: Bone diseases, infections or injuries may be the cause for unexplained bone pain. A bone scan helps with diagnosing the pain you may be experiencing, including skeletal pain. Bone scans are also used to diagnose cancer that has spread to the bone from a pre-existing tumor.
Brain Scans: A brain scan is used to evaluate disorders of the brain that include Alzheimer’s disease, seizures, tumors and strokes. 
Hepatobiliary Scans: A hepatobiliary (gallbladder) scan helps with identifying gallbladder disorders. It can also detect bile duct obstructions and is used to evaluate complications after gallbladder surgery.
Lung Ventilation and Perfusion Scans (VQ Scans): These scans measure the amount of air and blood flowing in and out of the lungs. They are most commonly used when the existence of a pulmonary embolism (a sudden lung artery blockage caused by a blood clot) is suspected.
Lymphoscintigraphy: This scan takes pictures of your lymphatic system, which consists of tiny vessels through which fluid flows continuously, cleaning away debris and bacteria from most parts of your body. In patients with breast cancer or melanoma, this shows a surgeon where the lymphatic drainage goes. The images help identify the lymph nodes that need to be removed surgically and examined under a microscope by a pathologist. This procedure also helps identify lymphatic system blockages.
• Octreoscans: These whole-body scans provide images of certain uncommon tumors, called neuroendocrine tumors. The Octreoscan radioactive tracer binds specifically to receptors on these types of cells.
• Renal Scans: A renal scan helps evaluate the blood flow and function of the kidneys, including transplanted kidneys. It is particularly helpful in evaluating the presence or absence of urinary obstruction in a kidney, for example, from a kidney stone.
• Parathyroid Scans: This scan localizes abnormal parathyroid glands that are causing hyperparathyroidism, making it easier and quicker for surgeons to find them and remove them. The most common parathyroid abnormality causing hyperparathyroidism is a parathyroid adenoma.
• I-131 Whole Body Scans: Radioactive I-131 is used both to treat thyroid cancer and to take images of the whole-body. The whole-body scans are sensitive for detecting spread of thyroid cancer.

Houston Methodist’s radiologists use nuclear medicine to capture images of internal organs or tissue that routine X-rays are unable to accomplish through the use of radioactive tracers (FDG). Positron emission tomography/computed tomography (PET/CT) is a hybrid technology that allows physicians to see tumor anatomy and function simultaneously. Its use is becoming widespread and increasingly important in oncology, with applications to the vast majority of cancer types.

Our 4-D CT scanning, which takes into account body movements during respiration, also helps in radiation treatment planning, as it can assist in properly targeting a tumor. The highly sensitive PET scan uses the radioactive tracer (FDG) to detect increased metabolic activity found in cancerous growth, while the CT scan uses computerized analysis of X-rays to reveal the location, size and shape of abnormal cancerous growths. Many oncologists use FDG-PET/CT to monitor disease status and tumor response to chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment.

Houston Methodist’s highly specialized nuclear medicine (PET/CT) tests enable our board-certified radiologists to safely provide the most accurate diagnoses of a wide range of oncological and neurological conditions and diseases. This enables the implementation of a course of treatment at the earliest possible stage to ensure our patients have the best outcomes.

Additional Information and Scheduling Appointments
To learn more about nuclear medicine (PET/CT) and how to prepare for your appointment, please review our patient information, which includes frequently asked questions  (FAQs).

Please call 713.790.3333 to schedule an appointment with a Houston Methodist board-certified radiologist.


Our radiologists at Houston Methodist specialize in performing nuclear medicine (PET/CT) at the following convenient locations: