Nuclear medicine

Diagnostic nuclear medicine, also known as molecular imaging, is a form of medical imaging that uses tiny amounts of radioactive chemicals called radiotracers.

These are generally injected into the bloodstream, allowing our team of experts to look at where the radiotracers localise in your body, providing information about the function of different cells, tissues and organs. The results of these scans enable doctors to provide an accurate diagnosis of a variety of conditions including cancer. Peter Mac has two state-of-the-art SPECT/CT cameras with quantitative capability.

At Peter Mac, this kind of imaging is separated into two categories – nuclear medicine and positron emission tomography (PET). Both types are usually used in conjunction with a computed tomography (CT) scan to help localise the site of radiotracer accumulation, helping doctors select and plan the best treatment for you. The nuclear medicine department also specialises in radionuclide therapy to treat a variety of cancers.

Types of nuclear medicine tests

The most commonly performed tests at Peter Mac are listed below.

Name of testRadioactive tracerPurpose of test
Cardiac gated blood pool scanTc-99m labelled red blood cellsMonitor heart function in patients having chemotherapy
Sentinel node scintigraphyTc-99m antimony colloidIdentify the pathway of lymphatic spread, most commonly performed in breast cancer and melanoma
Bone scanTc-99m MDPImaging of bone metabolism; enables identification of spread of tumour to bone
MIBI scanTc-99m sestamibiMost commonly used for imaging multiple myeloma; also used to locate parathyroid adenomas
Thyroid scanIodine-123, Tc-99m pertechnetateImaging for thyroid cancer and thyroid function
MIBG scanIodine-123 MIBGImaging of pheochromocytoma, paraganglioma and neuroblastoma
Renal scanTc-99m MAG3 or DTPA, Cr-51 EDTAMeasurement and imaging of kidney function
Lung scanTc-99m Technegas/MAAUsed to detect clots in the lung (pulmonary emboli) and to measure lung function
OctreoscanIn-111 octreotide/octreotateUsed to imaging neuroendocrine tumours

Preparing for your scan

When booking a scan, a technologist will provide you with any relevant preparation instructions. It is important to let the technologist know if you have any other procedures booked as this may alter your booking time and pre-scan preparation.

On the day

Where to go

Cancer Imaging

Level 5, reception 5C Imaging via the main lifts.

The front enquiry desk will be happy to direct you.

Scanning

Following administration of the radiotracers, scanning will take place. The duration for a scan will vary in length depending on the clinical question being addressed. Scanning time can take be between 15 and 90 minutes.

Sometimes imaging will be performed immediately after the radiotracer is administered to look at the rapid passage of the tracer through the body. In other cases, the tracer accumulates very slowly in tissues, in which case you may be able to leave Peter Mac for several hours, or several days in some cases, and return later for scanning.

Impacts of scans and radiation

Millions of scans are performed around the world each year with very low risk to the patient. All nuclear medicine scans involve administering radioactive compounds, but the radiation dose you receive is quite low, with most being about the same as the amount of radiation you receive from the environment over the course of a year.

Referral information

For patients

Your general practitioner or specialist will organise relevant referrals for nuclear medicine.

For medical professionals

For more information see referrals.

Location

Cancer Imaging

Level 5, reception 5C Imaging.

Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre

305 Grattan Street

Melbourne, VIC 3000

Contact

Imaging

Phone: (03) 8559 5510

Fax: (03) 8559 5519

Related experts

Prof. Rodney Hicks

A/Prof. Michael Hofman