Among the many reasons Radiology Associates of Ocala (RAO) has been a name associated with experience and trust throughout Central Florida for 45 years is RAO’s dedication to breakthrough technologies designed to discover disease in its earliest stages. One of the proven tools we use for rapid discovery is known as nuclear medicine.
Nuclear medicine describes a set of painless, noninvasive imaging tests that utilize small amounts of radioactive substances called radiotracers, which are used to diagnose and assess the severity and course of many types of cancers, gastrointestinal disorders, neurological problems, thyroid disease and much more. Radiotracers, which are typically introduced intravenously or orally, travel to the area being investigated and emit gamma rays that can be captured by a specialized camera and transferred to a computer screen for in-depth analysis. The images created by these scans are highly detailed, enabling earlier discovery of disease and covering a broader area than many other types of tests, making nuclear medicine the preferred diagnostic tool for many conditions. In certain cases, nuclear medicine can also be used to treat disease.
The Board Certified radiologists of RAO diagnose and analyze a wide variety of diseases and conditions using nuclear medicine scans, including the following:
Bone Scan – A nuclear medicine bone scan is used to evaluate bone and joint abnormalities and diseases. An injectable radiotracer travels through the bloodstream to the bones and joints, enabling your radiologist to get detailed images of fractures, infections, arthritis, tumors and other problems. This scan is often used to check for cancer that may have metastasized to the bones from another area, and to diagnose and monitor arthritis. “A nuclear medicine bone scan can catch disease very early, when it is most easily treated,” says Dr. Ryan Tompkins, whose specializations include diagnostic and musculoskeletal radiology. “We also use it to measure the effectiveness of treatments for diseases like cancer and arthritis so we can make sure they’re working successfully.”
Gastric Emptying Test (GET) – A GET is used to analyze the stomach’s speed and capacity to empty efficiently. Slow or incomplete gastric emptying, a condition called gastroparesis, is often marked by serious symptoms, including stomach, abdominal or chest pain, bloating, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, weight loss and gastroesophageal reflux, also called GERD or acid reflux. A GET is performed by having you swallow a tiny radiotracer, which travels to your stomach so images can be captured by a specialized scanner. Your RAO radiologist and clinician will be able to determine if your stomach is functioning below normal efficiency so that treatment can be prescribed.
DaTscan – The DaTscan is an FDA-approved nuclear medicine study used to evaluate the brain for tremors and Parkinson’s disease. A radiotracer is injected into the bloodstream, where it travels to the brain and targets the neurons responsible for controlling movement, allowing them to be imaged with the specialized gamma camera. “This is highly useful in differentiating Parkinson’s disease from lesser nervous system disorders, like essential tremors,” says Dr. Fredric Wollett, whose specializations include diagnostic radiology and nuclear medicine. “Advances in technology can give us results of the DaTscan in just weeks, instead of the months or years necessitated by outdated tests. Once a determination has been achieved, then the appropriate treatment can begin, which is a huge breakthrough for patients dealing with motion disorders.”
Gallium scan – A nuclear medicine gallium scan is able to explore the entire body for infection and tumors. Cancer cells and infections absorb gallium more aggressively than normal healthy cells, making the gallium scan effective in detecting lymphoma, tumors and hidden sources of infection. A gallium scan takes place over the course of three days. The first day you will be given a gallium injection and a laxative to help you empty your system. Your scan will be scheduled for the following day, and will take between 1-2 hours. On day three, you will have a repeat scan and your RAO radiologist and clinician will assess the results.
Hepatobiliary scan – Also called a gallbladder scan, this test enables evaluation of the biliary system, which includes the gallbladder and bile ducts. This scan is used to assess gallbladder disease and dysfunction, and locate duct obstructions. Once the radiotracer is absorbed into the biliary system, your RAO radiologist can diagnose the presence of disorders like gallstones, tumors, hematomas, abscesses, cysts or gallbladder enlargement.
Liver scan – A nuclear medicine liver/spleen scan is highly useful in catching diseases and injuries, including cancer, hepatitis, cirrhosis, abscesses, cysts, trauma and hematomas, as well as enlargement or impaired function of the liver and/or spleen. A radiotracer is injected into the bloodstream, where it travels to the liver and spleen for detailed imaging. This scan may also be performed to monitor the progression of disease or the effectiveness of prescribed treatment. “We can also diagnose elevated blood pressure within the liver,” says Dr. Brian Cartwright, whose specializations include diagnostic radiology. “This can signify a condition called portal hypertension, which can cause a host of problems, from internal bleeding to encephalopathy, so the earlier it is diagnosed, the sooner appropriate treatment can begin.”
Parathyroid scan – This study is used to diagnose abnormal or overactive parathyroid glands, which are small endocrine glands responsible for regulating the amount of calcium in the blood and within the bones. For this test, the radiotracer is injected or swallowed, enabling imaging and assessment of parathyroid function.
Thyroid scan – This scan is used to examine thyroid structure, activity and efficiency. It captures images of the size, shape, position and function of the thyroid gland in the anterior part of the neck. Because the thyroid is responsible for producing and storing hormones necessary to help regulate heart rate, blood pressure, metabolism and other vital processes, any health or functional problems should be diagnosed and treated as quickly as possible. This procedure involves two separate appointments.
RAO offers state-of-the-art nuclear medicine scans at our Medical Imaging Center at Windsor Oaks, where our highly trained nuclear medicine technologists see to your safety and comfort, and our team of Board Certified radiologists read all imaging results in-house for assured experience and accuracy.