Vocabulary for Nuclear Medicine, Imaging & Scanning

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  • 0:02 Nuclear Vocabulary
  • 0:37 Nuclear Medicine
  • 1:06 Nuclear Scans
  • 3:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson teaches you some of the major vocabulary behind nuclear medicine, as well as how it may help to diagnose and detect problems in a person more effectively than an x-ray.

Nuclear Vocabulary

Nuclear holocaust, nuclear war, nuclear meltdown, and so many other nuclear-related terms have very scary connotations of destruction, death, and doom. And, while they're certainly scary and very real, what's also real is the fact that we use radioactive substances to diagnose and treat diseases! Yep, we have turned a scary thing into one that is advantageous to our own health in many respects.

Nuclear medicine, namely its diagnostic aspects and its related vocabulary, will be defined for you now!

Nuclear Medicine

Nuclear medicine is a branch of medicine that utilizes radiation emitted by radioactive substances in order to diagnose and treat disease. The radioactive substances used in nuclear medicine are collectively referred to as radiopharmaceuticals. 'Radio-' means 'radiation,' and 'pharmaceuticals' refers to 'drugs' or 'medicines.' If we use these radioactive compounds for diagnostic purposes, then we are dealing with nuclear imaging.

Nuclear Scans

With the boring definitions out of the way, let's get to some fun stuff. Let's say that a patient of yours has cancer. You're afraid that this terrible cancer may have spread to the patient's bones. You also realize that simple x-rays are sometimes not detailed or sensitive enough to tell you if this is true or not.

By sensitive, I don't mean the x-rays are really mushy in their feelings. I mean, because they are not sensitive enough, they are limited in their ability to give us detailed information about very small changes in the body.

So, what else can you do for your patient to catch the spread of cancer early, before an x-ray can pick-up on these changes? Thanks to nuclear medicine, you can conduct a special kind of nuclear scan, or scintigram, called a bone scan. Scintigram comes from 'scinti-,' which implies a 'spark' or 'flash,' and '-gram,' which refers to a 'recording.'

Before I explain how bone scintigraphy works, let me paint a more familiar picture for you. You know those apps that allow people to tag where they've been? And you can then see how many people have been to a particular area in the country? The really popular areas, the hot spots in town, have a lot of tags indicating a lot of people have been there! They indicate something funky is going down over there and that maybe you should check it out. Well, in a basic sense, bone scans work similarly.

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