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How long does it take to become a Nuclear Medicine technologist 2022

Nuclear Medicine Technologist

NHow long does it take to become a Nuclear Medicine technologist 2022

The nuclear medicine technologist is a highly specialized health care professional who looks at how the body functions in order to help in diagnosis and treatment of a range of conditions and diseases. Nuclear medicine combines imaging, patient care, chemistry, physics, mathematics, computer technology, and medicine.

General nuclear medicine

Nuclear medicine uses small amounts of radioactive materials called radiosondes that are usually injected into the bloodstream, inhaled, or swallowed. The radiotracer travels through the scanned area and delivers energy in the form of gamma rays that are detected by a special camera and a computer to create images of the inside of your body. Nuclear medicine provides unique information that cannot generally be obtained using other imaging procedures and offers the ability to identify diseases in their early stages.

Talk to your doctor if there is a possibility that you are pregnant or if you are breastfeeding, and discuss any recent illnesses, medical conditions, allergies, and medications you are taking. Depending on the type of examination, your doctor will give you instructions on what to eat or drink beforehand, especially if sedation (anesthesia) is to be used. Leave jewelry at home and wear loose, comfortable clothing. You may be asked to change into a gown.

  • What is general nuclear medicine?
  • What are some of the common uses for this procedure?
  • How should I prepare?
  • How is the team?
  • How is it the procedure?
  • How is it carried?
  • What will I experience during and after the procedure?
  • Who interprets the results and how do I get them?
  • What are the benefits and risks?
  • What are the limitations of general nuclear medicine?

What is general nuclear medicine?

Nuclear medicine uses small amounts of radioactive material called radionuclides. Physicians use nuclear medicine to diagnose, evaluate, and treat various diseases. They include cancer, heart disease, and gastrointestinal, endocrine, neurological, and other medical conditions. Nuclear medicine tests identify molecular activities. This gives them the ability to find diseases in their earliest stages. They can also show if you are responding to

treatment .

Nuclear medicine is not invasive. With the exception of intravenous injections, it is generally painless. These tests use radioactive materials called radiopharmaceuticals or radiosondes to help diagnose and evaluate medical conditions .

Radiosondes are molecules attached to, or “tagged” with, a small amount of radioactive material. They accumulate in tumors or in regions of inflammation. They can also be attached to specific proteins in the body. The most common radiotracer is fluorodeoxyglucose F-18 (FDG), a molecule similar to glucose. Cancer cells are more metabolically active and can absorb glucose at a higher rate. This allows your doctor to detect the disease before it can be found on other imaging tests. The FDG is one of many radiosondes in use or under development .

The radiotracer will usually be given as an injection. Or, you could swallow or inhale it as a gas, depending on the test. It accumulates in the area that is being examined. A special camera detects the gamma ray emissions from the radiosonde. The camera and a computer produce images and generate molecular information .

How long does it take to become a Nuclear Medicine technologist 2022

Many imaging centers combine nuclear medicine imaging with computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to produce special views. Doctors refer to this as image fusion or co-registration. Image fusion allows the physician to connect and interpret information from two different exams in one image. This allows for more accurate information and a more accurate diagnosis. The single photon emission tomography CT / CT (SPECT / CT) and positron emission tomography CT (PET / CT) units can perform both exams at the same time. PET / MRI is an emerging imaging technology. It is not available everywhere .

Therapy – Nuclear Medicine technologist

Nuclear medicine also provides therapeutic procedures, such as radioactive iodine (I-131) therapy , which uses small amounts of radioactive material to treat cancer and other health problems that affect the thyroid gland , as well as other cancers and medical conditions. .

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma patients who do not respond to chemotherapy may undergo radioimmunotherapy (RIT).

Radioimmunotherapy is a personalized cancer treatment that combines radiation therapy with the ability to target immunotherapy (a treatment that mimics the cellular activity of the body’s immune system). See the Radioimmunotherapy (RIT) page for more information .

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What are some of the common uses for this procedure?

Doctors use nuclear medicine imaging procedures to visualize the structure and function of an organ, tissue, bone, or system within the body.

In adults, nuclear medicine is used to:


  • visualize blood flow and heart function (such as myocardial perfusion scan )
  • detect coronary artery disease and the extent of coronary stenosis
  • assess heart damage after a heart attack
  • evaluate treatment options, such as heart bypass surgery and angioplasty
  • evaluate the results of revascularization procedures (restoration of blood flow)
  • detect rejection of the transplanted heart
  • evaluate heart function before and after chemotherapy (MUGA)


  • scan the lungs for possible breathing or blood circulation problems
  • assess differential lung function for lung reduction or transplant surgery
  • detect lung transplant rejection

Bones – Nuclear Medicine technologist

  • examine bones for fractures, infections, and arthritis
  • evaluate the presence of bone metastases
  • evaluate painful prosthetic joints
  • evaluate bone tumors
  • identify biopsy sites


  • evaluate brain abnormalities in patients with certain symptoms and disorders such as seizures, memory loss, and suspected abnormalities in blood flow
  • detect the early onset of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease
  • help plan surgery identify areas of the brain that may be causing the seizures
  • evaluate the presence of abnormalities in a brain chemical involved in movement control, in patients suspected of having Parkinson’s disease or similar movement disorders
  • evaluation of suspected recurrence of brain tumors, planning of radiation therapy or surgery, or location for biopsy

Other systems

  • identify inflammation or abnormal function of the gallbladder
  • identify bleeding in the intestine
  • evaluate postoperative complications of gallbladder surgery
  • assess lymphaedema
  • evaluate fever of unknown origin
  • locate the presence of infections
  • measure thyroid gland function to detect the presence of hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism
  • help diagnose hyperthyroidism and blood cell disorders
  • evaluate hyperparathyroidism (overactive parathyroid gland)
  • assess stomach emptying
  • assess cerebrospinal fluid flow and possible cerebrospinal fluid leakage

In adults and children, nuclear medicine is used to: Nuclear Medicine technologist


  • classify the stage of cancer by determining the presence of cancer that has spread to various parts of the body
  • locate sentinel lymph nodes, before surgery, in patients with breast, skin, or soft tissue cancer
  • plan treatment
  • assess response to therapy
  • detect cancer recurrence
  • detect rare tumors of the pancreas and adrenal glands


  • analyze the function and blood flow of the original or transplanted kidneys
  • detect urinary tract obstructions
  • evaluate the presence of hypertension (high blood pressure) related to the arteries of the kidneys
  • evaluate the kidneys to determine if it is an infection or a scar
  • detect and monitor urinary reflux in pediatric patients

In children the nuclear medina is also used to:

  • investigate abnormalities in the esophagus such as esophageal reflux or motility disorders
  • evaluate the opening of the tear ducts
  • evaluate the opening of ventricular valves in the brain
  • evaluate pulmonary valves and blood flow in congenital heart disease

Nuclear medicine therapies include :

  • Radioactive iodine (I-131) therapy used to treat some of the causes of hyperthyroidism , (a thyroid gland that works harder than normal, for example, Graves disease ) and thyroid cancer
  • Radioactive antibodies used to treat certain forms of lymphoma (cancer of the lymphatic system )
  • Radioactive phosphorus (P-32) used to treat certain blood diseases
  • Radioactive materials used to treat metastasis of tumor painful bones
  • I-131 MIBG (radioactive iodine labeled with metaiodobenzylguanidine) used to treat tumors of the adrenal gland in adults and tumors of the nervous system and adrenal gland tissue in children

How should I prepare – Nuclear Medicine technologist

You may need to wear a gown during the exam, or you may be allowed to keep your clothes on .

Women should always speak with their doctors and technologists if they are pregnant or breastfeeding. See the X-Ray Safety, Interventional Radiology, and Nuclear Medicine Procedures page for more information on pregnancy and breastfeeding related to nuclear medicine imaging prognosis.

Talk to your doctor and your technologist about any medications you are taking, including vitamins and herbal supplements. Mention any allergies, recent illnesses, and other medical conditions .

Leave jewelry and other accessories at home or remove them before the exam. These objects could interfere with the procedure.

Your doctor will tell you how to prepare for your particular exam.

In some cases, certain medications or procedures may interfere with the required test. See the Radioactive Iodine (I-131) Therapy page for instructions on preparing for the procedure.

How is the team – Nuclear Medicine technologist

Nuclear medicine uses a special gamma camera and single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) imaging techniques.

The gamma camera detects the energy emissions from the radiosonde on your body and converts them into an image. The gamma camera itself does not emit any radiation. It has radiation detectors called gamma camera heads.

 They are lined with metal and plastic, often box-shaped, and attached to a round, ring-shaped gantry. The patient lies on an exam table that slides between two parallel gamma camera heads, above and below the patient. Sometimes the doctor will orient the gamma camera heads at a 90 degree angle on the patient’s body.

In SPECT, the gamma camera heads rotate around the patient’s body to produce detailed, three-dimensional images.

How long does it take to become a Nuclear Medicine technologist 2022

The PET scanner consists of a large machine that has a circular opening, with a hole in the middle. It is similar to a CT or MRI unit. Multiple ring-shaped detectors inside the machine capture energy emissions from the radiosonde on your body.

A computer helps create the images from the data obtained by the gamma camera.

A probe is a small handheld device similar to a microphone. It measures the amount of radionuclide in an area of ​​your body.

No specialized equipment is used during radioactive iodine therapy, but the technologist or other personnel who administer the treatment may cover your clothing and use lead containers to protect the radioactive material you will receive.

How is it the procedure – Nuclear Medicine technologist

X-ray exams pass X- rays through the body to create an image. Nuclear medicine uses radioactive materials called radiopharmaceuticals or radiosondes. Your doctor usually injects this material into your bloodstream. Or, you can swallow or inhale it as a gas. The material accumulates in the area being examined, where it delivers gamma rays. Special cameras detect this energy and, with the help of a computer, create images that show details of how organs and tissues look and function.

Unlike other imaging techniques, nuclear medicine focuses on the internal processes of the body. This includes metabolic rates or levels of various other chemical activities. The areas of greatest intensity are called “hot spots.” Such areas could show high concentrations of radiosonde and places where there is a high level of chemical or metabolic activity. Less intense areas, or “cold zones”, indicate a lower concentration of radiosonde and less activity.

In radioactive iodine (I-131) therapy for thyroid gland disease, radioactive iodine (I-131) is swallowed and absorbed into the bloodstream in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and taken up from the blood by the thyroid gland, destroying the cells that are inside this organ.

How long does it take to become a Nuclear Medicine technologist 2022

Radioimmunotherapy (RIT) is a combination of radiation therapy and immunotherapy. In immunotherapy, a molecule made in the laboratory, called a monoclonal antibody, is designed to recognize and bind to the surface of cancer cells. Monoclonal antibodies mimic antibodies naturally produced by the body’s immune system, which attack invading foreign substances, such as bacteria and viruses.

In RIT, an antibody is coupled with a radioactive material. When injected into the patient’s bloodstream, the antibody travels to and binds to cancer cells, allowing a high dose of radiation to be delivered directly to the tumor.

In 131 I-MIBG therapy for neuroblastomas, the radiotracer is delivered by injection into the bloodstream. The probe binds to cancer cells allowing a high dose of radiation to be delivered to the tumor.

How is it carried – Nuclear Medicine technologist

Physicians perform nuclear medicine examinations on outpatients and inpatients. 

You will lie on an exam table. If necessary, a nurse or technologist will insert an intravenous (IV) catheter into a vein in your hand or arm.

For most tests, you will be given a radionuclide injection. Or, you could swallow or inhale it as a gas.

It may take several days for the radiotracer to travel through your body and collect in the area under study. Images could be acquired immediately, in a few hours, or several days later.

After image capture starts, the camera or browser will capture a series of images. The camera could rotate around you or stay in one position. You may have to change position between images. While the camera is taking photos, you will have to stand still for short periods. In some cases, the camera may move very close to your body. This is necessary to obtain the best image quality. Before your exam begins, talk to your technologist if you are afraid of confined spaces.

The technologist may pass a handheld probe over the body to measure levels of radioactivity. Other tests measure levels of radioactivity in the blood, urine, or breath.

The length of time for nuclear medicine procedures varies considerably, depending on the type of examination. The actual scan time for nuclear medicine imaging tests can take anywhere from 20 minutes to several hours and could take several days.

How long does it take to become a Nuclear Medicine technologist 2022

Young children may need to be gently sedated or restrained to help them stay still. If your doctor deems it necessary to sedate your child, you will receive specific instructions on when and whether to feed your child on the day of the exam. 

A doctor or nurse who specializes in pediatric anesthesia will be available during the exam to keep your child safe while under sedation. When making an appointment for a child’s exam, ask if they have a child specialist available. These specialists are trained to help your child feel more comfortable and less anxious without sedation, and they will also help your child not move during the exam.

After the exam, you may have to wait until the technologist determines if more images are needed. Sometimes the technologist acquires more images to clarify or better visualize certain areas or structures. The need for more images does not necessarily mean that there was something wrong with the exam or that something was abnormal. It shouldn’t cause you concern.

How long does it take to become a Nuclear Medicine technologist 2022

If you have an intravenous (IV) line, your technologist will usually be the one to remove it. The technologist will leave it in place if you will have another procedure on the same day that you require an IV line.

For patients with thyroid gland disease who are undergoing radioactive iodine therapy (I-131), which is generally an outpatient procedure, radioactive iodine is taken in a single dose, either in capsule or liquid form.

Radioimmunotherapy (RIT), which is generally an outpatient procedure, is given by injection.

Neuroblastoma therapy with I-131 MIBG is given by injection into the bloodstream. Children are admitted to the hospital for inpatient treatment and will spend the night in a specially prepared room. Special arrangements are made so that parents can participate in the care of their children while they are undergoing therapy.

What will I experience during and after the procedure?

With the exception of intravenous injections, most nuclear medicine procedures are painless. It is rare that significant discomfort or side effects are reported.

You will feel a small pin prick when the technologist inserts the needle into your vein for the IV line. You may feel a cold sensation creep up your arm during the radiotracer injection. Usually there are no side effects.

Radiosondes have little or no flavor. Breathing in a radiotracer feels no different than breathing in the air around you, or holding your breath.

In some procedures, the technologist may place a catheter in your bladder. This could cause you temporary discomfort.

How long does it take to become a Nuclear Medicine technologist 2022

It is important that you remain still during the exam. Nuclear medicine itself does not cause pain. However, having to stay in one position or still for long periods may be uncomfortable.

Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, you will be able to resume your normal activities after your exam. A technologist, nurse, or doctor will give you any special instructions you need before you leave.

Through the natural process of radioactive decay, the small amount of radiotracer in the body will lose its radioactivity through the natural process of radioactive decay. It may also pass out of the body in urine or feces during the first few hours or days after the procedure. Drink large amounts of water to help remove the material from the body.

See the Nuclear Medicine Safety page for more information.

You will be informed where and when to return to the nuclear medicine department for further procedures.

Who interprets the results and how do I get them?

A radiologist or other doctor specially trained in nuclear medicine will interpret the images and send a report to your referring doctor.

What are the benefits and risks?


  • Nuclear medicine exams provide unique information that cannot generally be obtained with other imaging procedures. This information includes details about the function and anatomy of structures in the body. Nuclear medicine provides the most useful information possible for the diagnosis or treatment of many diseases. 
  • A nuclear medicine scan is cheaper and may provide more accurate information than exploratory surgery.
  • Nuclear medicine offers the ability to identify diseases in their early stages, usually before symptoms appear or abnormalities can be detected with other diagnostic methods.
  • Because they can detect with some precision whether a lesion is benign or malignant , PET scans can eliminate the need for a surgical biopsy, or they can identify the best site for a biopsy.
  • PET scans may provide additional information that is used for radiation therapy planning.

Risks – Nuclear Medicine technologist

  • Because nuclear medicine exams use only a small dose of radiotracer, they have relatively low radiation exposure. This is acceptable for diagnostic tests. In this way, the potential benefits of an exam outweigh the risk of very low radiation.
  • Physicians have been using nuclear medicine diagnostic procedures for more than six decades. There are no known long-term adverse effects from exposure to such a low dose.
  • Your doctor always weighs the benefits of nuclear medicine treatment against any risks. Your doctor will discuss the relevant risks before treatment and give you an opportunity to ask questions.
  • Allergic reactions to radiosondes are extremely rare and generally mild. Always talk to the nuclear medicine staff about any allergies you may have. Describe any problems you have had during previous nuclear medicine exams.
  • The radiotracer injection may be slightly sore or red. This should resolve quickly. 
  • Women should always talk to their doctor and radiation technologist if there is any possibility that they are pregnant or nursing. See the X-Ray Safety, Interventional Radiology, and Nuclear Medicine Procedures page for more information on pregnancy and breastfeeding related to nuclear medicine imaging prognosis.

What are the limitations of general nuclear medicine?

Nuclear medicine procedures can be time consuming. It can take from several hours to several days for the radiosonde to accumulate in the area of ​​interest. Also, getting the images can take up to several hours. In some cases, newer equipment could substantially reduce procedure time.

The resolution of nuclear medicine images may not be as high as CT or MRI. However, nuclear medicine scans are more sensitive for a variety of indications. The functional information they produce is generally impossible to obtain using other imaging techniques.

Frequently Asked Questions: How long does it take to become a Nuclear Medicine technologist?

How long does it take to become a nuclear medicine technologist?

Education, Training, and Other Requirements

The Joint Review Committee on Education Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology accredits formal training programs in nuclear medicine technology. Completion of a training program takes one to four years and leads to a certificate, an associate degree, or a bachelor’s degree.

Is nuclear medicine a dying field?

Finally, to complete the answer to your question, diagnostic and therapeutic nuclear medicine are very active in research and new radiopharmaceuticals coming in for clinical use. So, nuclear medicine is certainly not a dying field.

How long is school for nuclear medicine?

Nuclear medicine technology-the process of elucidating various bodily processes using small amounts of radioactive drugs traced via diagnostic scans-is a relatively new (and lucrative) medical field, requiring at least a two-year postsecondary degree.

What does a nuclear medicine technologist do daily?

Nuclear medicine technologists typically do the following: Explain medical procedures to the patient and answer questions. Follow safety procedures to protect themselves and the patient from unnecessary radiation exposure. Prepare radioactive drugs and administer them to the patient.

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