What Are the Different Types of Nuclear Medicine Cameras?

Glyn Sinclair

Nuclear medicine imaging allows physicians to take images of various organs and tissue by introducing a small amount of radioactive substance into the body. There are three different types of nuclear medicine cameras: the gamma camera, Positron Emission Tomography (PET) camera, and Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT) camera. A gamma camera housed in a metal casing is able to detect radiopharmaceuticals at the site of the potential disease and diagnose problems on a cellular level. The radioactive substance is typically introduced into the body orally or by intravenous injection. The nuclear medicine cameras can be used to detect conditions such as cancer, heart and lung disease, bone disorders and brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

A SPECT scan can be used to trace blood flow through the brain.
A SPECT scan can be used to trace blood flow through the brain.

The gamma camera does not give off any radiation itself, but rather picks up the radiation from radiopharmaceuticals inside the body at the site of the potential disease. The camera can be located above or below the examination table and is sometimes found inside a round scanning machine. It is then able to rotate and image the body once the patient has been inserted into the machine. By imaging the body on a cellular level, nuclear medicine cameras are able to detect diseases and disorders before they have a chance to spread and display outward physical signs in the tissue and body in general. A computer downloads the information from the camera and assists in creating the images.

PET scans use radioactive tracer to highlight parts of the body that may have an abnormal growth.
PET scans use radioactive tracer to highlight parts of the body that may have an abnormal growth.

Single photon emission computed tomography is another imaging machine that allows physicians to take images that depict blood flow to the organs and body tissues. A gamma ray emitting tracer substance is given to the patient and the scanner takes images of various sections of the body and sends them to a computer that eventually pieces the cross-sections into 3D images. The SPECT scan is typically limited to imaging areas where the blood flows through the veins. One of the prime tasks or the SPECT scan is to chart and image the blood flow through the vessels in the brain.

Nuclear medicine cameras may be used to detect lung disease.
Nuclear medicine cameras may be used to detect lung disease.

Another in the line of nuclear medicine cameras is the PET scan. This scan is typically employed to check for cancers and the effects of a heart attack. It is also able to image any anomalies in the brain. As with the other procedures, a tracer substance is administered and the patient is asked to lie down on a thin table which slides through an oval hole in the middle of the machine. The PET scanner has a number of detector rings that are able to image emissions from the tracer substance inside the patient’s body.

Nuclear medicine cameras may be used to detect heart disease.
Nuclear medicine cameras may be used to detect heart disease.

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