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What is nuclear radiology?

Nuclear radiology, also called nuclear medicine, uses small amounts of radioactive materials to diagnose or treat disease. These materials are sometimes called radiopharmaceuticals or tracers.

The patient is given the radiopharmaceuticals by mouth or with an IV (a needle attached to a tiny tube).

The amount of radiation used is small, resulting in a low-dose exposure to radiation. Nuclear medicine diagnostic procedures have been used for more than 50 years, and there are no known long-term side effects.

Diagnosis

Nuclear medicine imaging often can help identify disease in its earliest stages and determine if a child is responding to treatment. Procedures are painless.

The radiopharmaceuticals travel through the body, allowing doctors to view detailed and precise images of internal body systems using a special camera. They give doctors information about the function and structure of the body that often cannot be gotten from other tests.

Nuclear medicine imaging may be used with CT scans or MRIs to produce special images. PET/CT can complete both imaging tests simultaneously.

Treatment

Nuclear medicine can help doctors perform noninvasive treatments that might otherwise require surgery. These include radioactive iodine therapy, which uses nuclear medicine to treat cancer and other disorders of the thyroid gland, and treatments for other types of cancer and diseases.

How do I prepare my child for a nuclear radiology procedure?

There may be special rules about preparing for the test your child will have. Be sure to write down and follow any directions we give you. If you forget or have questions, call 832-TC4-XRAY (832-824-9729).

Read more about how to prepare for your child’s visit.

What happens during a nuclear radiology procedure?

Before and during the procedure, a child-life specialist can help your child relax and feel more comfortable by providing coaching and distraction tailored to your child’s developmental level. Sometimes this helps reduce the need for sedation.

If your child is young or unable to lie still, he may need to be given medicine to help him relax or sleep. This is also called sedation or anesthesia. Depending on the test, sedation or anesthesia may be given by mouth, shot or IV (a needle connected to a tiny tube).

Read more about sedation.

If your child needs an IV, a needle will be inserted into your child’s skin to give the medicine. Your child might feel a pinch or a poke when the needle goes into the vein. We have ways to help with the pain if your child needs it.

If the radiotracer is given through an IV, your child may experience a cold feeling on his arm. If it is swallowed, it has little or no taste.

Since it takes from several seconds to several days for the radiotracer to travel through your child’s body, the imaging test may be done right away, later the same day or another day.

What happens during the test depends on the type of imaging your child has.

If your child receives sedation or anesthesia, you can return to the exam room when the procedure is over. We will monitor your child closely until he is fully awake.

How do I find out results of my child's test or procedure?

Test: The technologist cannot tell you the results of the test. A pediatric radiologist will analyze the images and provide a report of the findings to your child’s doctor. Your child’s doctor will then notify you of the results.

Procedure: After the procedure, the nuclear radiologist will speak to you.

Why choose Texas Children’s?

The board-certified pediatric nuclear medicine physicians at Texas Children’s are among the most experienced in the nation in nuclear radiology diagnosis and treatment. This translates to a higher level of care than that found at most hospitals.

We are committed to your child’s safety, evidenced by our specialized equipment and methods. This means that we use the lowest doses possible to deliver the best results in diagnosis and treatment.

Our staff is specially trained in the unique needs of children and teens. This includes dedicated child-life specialists who can help your child relax before and during the procedures. In addition, our child-friendly environments puts parents and children at ease. In particular, the Philips Ambient Experience uses sounds and light to create a soothing environment.

Nuclear radiology is available at Texas Children’s Main Campus – Texas Medical Center in the Pavilion for Women, Level 5.

If you have questions or want to make an appointment, call 832-TC4-XRAY (832-824-9729). An order from your doctor is needed to make an appointment.