How Has Nuclear Science Affected Medicine?

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How Has Nuclear Science Affected Medicine?


Nuclear medicine is a modern technique in medical treatment that offers a painless procedure in treating patients. The radioactive material used in this procedure is called radiopharmaceuticals that help in an accurate diagnosis as well as treatment of the disease. This procedures work when small amount of radiopharmaceuticals is released in the human body mostly by means of injection. In other occasions, the patient will be requested to swallow or inhale radiopharmaceuticals substances that go towards bones and/or tissues of the body (Society of Nuclear Medicine, n.d.). There is a special camera that is designed especially for the purpose of nuclear medicine called PET or SPECT or gamma camera with special mechanisms sensitive to radiopharmaceuticals in the body so that image is formed of the bone and/or tissue where the substance bonded  (Society of Nuclear Medicine, n.d.). When capturing the necessary image, the data collected runs an analysis to find out any abnormal things in the region that hints for the existence of a disease. The nuclear medicine evaluates images in terms of changes in the biological composition that provides accurate results compared to other imaging tests.

Nuclear Medicine

Nuclear physics has had an enormous impact on modern medicine, beginning with the discovery of natural radioactivity and Madam Curie’s contributions and leading up to today’s advances. It was found to be ready for use in tumor therapy even before proper mechanisms of radiation ionizing could be discovered and developed (Society of Nuclear Medicine, 2009). The nuclear medical field jumped forward with the appearance of the tracer technology, which led to an immediate rise of an entirely new field that specialized in the study of the in-vivo measure of different organ functions as well as the field of chemical-kinetics. There have been a multiple improvements in the applications of nuclear physics in medical treatments that have made procedures more accurate and safer, especially on account of the introduction of precise tumor control and targeting. In essence, nuclear science has dramatically transformed medical procedures and the entire quality of medical services.

Nuclear medicine is a specialized branch of medical imaging and medicine that depends on radioactive decay in the diagnosis, management and treatment of diseases. It is also known as the “inside-out x-ray” because of its ability to record radiation that emits from an individual’s body as different from the traditional x-ray and other techniques that register only radiation directed and reflected off a person’s body (Grossman, 2006). Nuclear medicine operations are heavily reliant on radiopharmaceuticals (minute radioactive particles) to produce images of the anatomy. These particles are usually driven to particular bones, organs, tissues and cells. Effectively, the particles are introduced into the body of a patient by inhalation, swallowing or injection and as they pass through the body, radioactive radiation will be emitted.

Specialized cameras are then used to expose all emissions from the patient’s body and output the image onto a computer monitor. This discipline is unique, not only because it gathers information about the functions of the tissues and organs, but it also provides the particular structure. Thus, this field of imaging and medicine allows doctors to see the physiological structure of organs, such as the bladder (Schneider, 2010). Computer imaging procedures can be done with radioactive decay to make sure of the proper functioning and structure of just about every organ in the body. These specialized cameras have a popular usage in the following areas; tissue and bone imaging, bone scans, brain scans, cardiac-stress tests as well as lung scans among a couple of other procedures and functions.

Besides diagnosis, its usage for therapeutic purposes includes pain relief in case of bone cancers as well as treatment of hyperthyroidism. Technological advances created cameras are designed for the purpose of detecting radiopharmaceuticals that functions with greater effectiveness and sophistication. Usually, gamma cameras are used to work with the imaging systems designed for specific testing. The gamma camera is one of those specialized cameras “capable of detecting a radiotracer… [and] creates two-dimensional picture of the inside of the body from different angles” (Society of Nuclear Medicine, 2009). Further advancement in instrumentation introduced the digital scintillation camera that produces 3D image on the computer, which has been described as “a camera system in which the computer is an integral part of the system and used for processing the scintillation event.” (Galt& Garcia, 2001, p. 43). These cameras are suitable with systems used for image processing including Single-Photon Emission-Computed Tomography (SPECT), Positron Emission Tomography (PET) and other upgraded versions of these systems such as CT-PET and MR-PET.

The understanding of these systems will need a description of the systems used in nuclear medicine such as the SPECT instrument which is “capable of detecting radiotracer… [and] creates three-dimensional images of the area being studied.” (Society of Nuclear Medicine, “Fact Sheet,” 2009). The SPECT system when fused with computed tomography (CT) systems produces results with great accuracy. Meanwhile the PET device uses a scanner and requires that the radiotracer be injected into the bloodstream of the patient (Society of Nuclear Medicine, 2009). Similar to SPECT, PET system may also combine with extended systems such as CT to deliver “highly detailed views of the body… [that] provide[s] detail on both the anatomy and function of organs and tissues” (Society of Nuclear Medicine, 2009).

Nuclear medicine differs mainly from X-rays and MRIs, plus has both technical differences and has a better quality of the images produced, besides serving a further purpose of showing physiological function of body organs, tissues and cells. MRI scanning uses powerful magnetic forces to raise and attract hydrogen nuclei contained in the body’s tissues. The excited nucleus then shows signals that can be found and encoded spatially into the image that the computer generates. MRI imaging is traditionally 2D and represents thin body slices, although modern equipment is capable of producing 3D images. An MRI does include ionization and therefore it does not involve long term health effects like x-rays but it comes with health risks because of the possibility of tissues heating as a result of exposure to strong magnetic forces. On top it all, MRI to include CT scanning tests are categorized as “anatomic imaging tools” which means that these systematic procedures can only produce the structure of the body for the physician’s examination and interpretation, which to some extent may be breeding inaccuracies that result in misdiagnosis (,  n.d.).

Meanwhile, the nuclear medicine is a sophisticated technique that functions beyond imaging. The analytical ability of the nuclear medicine aids physicians in a more accurate diagnosis as automated calculation is significantly precise in reading data as compared to humans. For example, PET system operates through a scanning procedure in which “a metabolic imaging tool.............

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