Explain the referral process to me?
Your doctor will refer you to a nuclear medicine specialist for an isotope scan to clarify questions about your health. The results of this scan will enable your doctor to treat your disease more effectively. Patients need to be referred by a doctor and medical aid schemes will not pay for scans if this procedure is not followed. You will be given an appointment date and time by our staff. It is important to arrive on time as late arrivals can disrupt a whole day’s imaging schedule.
How do I prepare for my procedure?
Sometimes you will be asked to fast or to stop taking certain medicines you may be on. It is important that you let the doctor know before your procedure if you are pregnant or breast feeding, taking medication or receiving treatment. This will allow the nuclear physician to plan your examination more precisely, leading to a more accurate diagnosis. Nuclear medicine procedures are often performed on children and, under special circumstances, pregnant women too. Depending on the patient, the safest, most appropriate dose will always be carefully calculated and administered.
Is it harmful?
In large amounts and outside of controlled environments radiation can be harmful – like other things such as too much sun or too much noise! But when radiation is professionally harnessed and utilized in correct quantities, like in medicine, it is extremely useful in the care of patients.
Nuclear medicine procedures are carefully designed and expose you to minimum radiation levels. Do not be put off by the words ‘nuclear’ or ‘radiopharmaceutical’; the radioactive material used in your procedure is administered in small doses, has no side effects, quickly loses its radioactivity and leaves your body rapidly – usually within 24 hours. All radiopharmaceuticals (or tracers) are also carefully prepared and medically approved in the rest of the world.
What happens during my procedure?
Firstly, you will be given a small dose of the tracer (or radiopharmaceutical). This is usually by injection. Then, depending on what scan you are having, imaging will be done either immediately or a few hours (or even a few days) after your injection. Before imaging begins, you will be asked to lie down and then the camera will be positioned over your body. Imaging times range between 20 and 60 minutes and during imaging you will be asked to lie as still as possible.
What is radiation?
X-rays and Gamma radiation are naturals forms of energy – like light or sound – but it cannot be seen, heard, touched, smelt or tasted. We can only ‘see’ this radiation with special instruments. But, even though we cannot see it, it is all around us, all the time. It reaches us from the sun and the rest of the universe and is also emitted from compounds around us on earth, like water, rocks, air – even cement and bricks. All humans are naturally radioactive too; and everything on the planet is continually bathed in it every day. While these are natural forms of energy, they can also be artificially reproduced using X-ray machines, nuclear reactors, cyclotrons and linear accelerators and can be used for medical purposes to diagnose and treat disease.
When will I get my results back?
Once your scan is complete the nuclear physician will review your images, prepare a detailed report and send the report and images to your doctor. You doctor will then notify you about the results, explain them and discuss with you what other procedures, tests or examinations you may need – if any. If you doctor is satisfied with the results, you will start the appropriate treatment.
Will it hurt?
As with all injections you will feel a slight prick on your skin and there may be brief discomfort as the dose is injected. Apart from that it is painless – but be sure to immediately notify the radiographer performing the procedure should you feel any other pain or discomfort.