Medical Specialties

Nuclear Medicine


Nuclear medicine at Phoenix Children's Hospital

We recognize that children are more sensitive to radiation so we embace the concept of "Image Gently." Phoenix Children's is committed to the lowest radiation dose possible and tailors all imaging studies to the size of the child and diagnostic needs. We do not use adult techniques to study children.

What is a Nuclear Medicine Scan?

Nuclear medicine tests differ from most other imaging modalities in that they are generally more organ or tissue specific (e.g.: a scan of a child's lungs, heart, bone or brain) than those in conventional radiology imaging, which focus on a particular section of the body (e.g.: chest X-ray, abdomen/pelvis CT scan). In addition, there are nuclear medicine tests that allow imaging of the child's whole body based on certain cellular functions.

What is a PET/CT (Positron Emission Tomography) Scan?

Positron Emission Tomography (PET/CT) imaging, the most common type of nuclear medicine, offers physicians a unique view of the body's organs and tissue because it records function by showing pictures at the cellular level.

These very detailed pictures are achieved by injecting sugar mixed with a drug called radioisotope, which is drawn to specific cells in the body. The PET/CT scanner then makes images of the areas that attracted the drug mixture.


Common Uses for the Procedure

PET and PET/CT scans are performed to:

  • Detect cancer
  • Determine whether a cancer has spread in the body
  • Assess the effectiveness of a treatment plan, such as cancer therapy
  • Determine if a cancer has returned after treatment
  • Determine blood flow to the heart muscle
  • Evaluate brain abnormalities, such as tumors, memory disorders and seizures and other central nervous system disorders
  • To map normal human brain and heart function

PET/CT also shows clear pictures of body parts and can allow physicians to view the child's entire body with one scan. Total scanning time is approximately 30 minutes.

Other Types of Nuclear Medicine

Nuclear medicine imaging for children uses very small amounts of radioactive materials (radiopharmaceuticals) to diagnose and treat disease. In imaging, the radiopharmaceuticals are detected by special types of scanners that work with computers to provide very precise pictures about the area of the body being imaged. There are several types:

  • Bone Scan: several pictures or x-rays are taken of the bone after a dye has been injected into your child that is absorbed by bone tissue. These are used to detect tumors and bone abnormalities.
  • DMSA Renal Scan: this procedure takes pictures of the kidneys with a special camera following the injection of a weak radioactive solution (radioisotope), known as DMSA. It's purpose is to check your child's kidney size, position and function as well as for scarring which may be caused by recurrent UTIs (urinary tract infections).
  • Gastric Emptying: this diagnostic test uses radioactive chemicals mixed into food and water that are digested by your child. Its purpose is to measure the speed with which food empties from the stomach and enters into the small intestine. Using a scanner placed over a child's stomach, this can determine if gastric symptoms are being caused due to slow or rapid emptying of the stomach.
  • Hepatobiliary: a low radioactive isotope (technetium) is injected into the child's vein. The liver and intestine are scanned by a nuclear medicine machine. If the isotope passes through the liver into the intestine, the bile ducts are open and the child does not have biliary atresia.
  • Meckel’s Scan: a substance called technetium is injected into your child's bloodstream though an intravenous (IV) line. The technetium can be seen on an X-ray in areas of the body where stomach tissue exists, such as the Meckel's diverticulum.

Nuclear MedicinePhoenix Children's Nuclear Medicine department is accredited by the American College of Radiology (ACR). Accreditation by the ACR demonstrates a commitment to quality care and patient safety, setting Phoenix Children's apart from other radiology centers.

What to Expect - Before You Arrive

When you arrive to the Imaging Department, sign your child's name in at the registration desk located on the first floor of the Main Building, across from the Gift Shop. When your child's name is called, our staff will complete the proper paperwork with you.

Review our helpful tips on what to expect before you arrive. Also, we ask that you please review this form before your appointment:

Note: Be sure to bring any related documentation such as physician notes and prior images to your child’s appointment.

Contact us

For more information or to make a referral, please call 602-933-1213.

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