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Nuclear Medicine Imaging at UPMC

What Are Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging and Theranostics?

Nuclear medicine imaging:

  • Uses small, safe amounts of radioactive tracers to take pictures of organs and tissue.
  • Differs from other imaging tests because it shows how organs function rather than how they look.
  • Helps doctors diagnose and treat a range of diseases, including cancer and heart disease.


  • Uses therapeutics and diagnostics to treat a tumor.
  • Combines using one radioactive drug to make a diagnosis and a second radioactive drug to deliver therapy to treat a tumor.

Find an imaging location near you

Types of Nuclear Imaging Tests

Our staff has expert training in a wide array of nuclear imaging scans, including:

  • Bone scan. Assesses degenerative or arthritic changes in your joints, detects bone diseases or tumors, and finds the cause of bone pain or swelling.
  • Brain scan. Looks for problems within the brain or with blood circulation to the brain.
  • Gastric emptying test (GET). Measures the speed with which food empties from your stomach.
  • Heart scan. Finds abnormal blood flow to the heart, measures heart function, or shows the extent of damage after a heart attack.
  • HIDA (hepatobiliary iminodiacetic acid) scan. Takes pictures of your liver, gallbladder, bile ducts, and small intestine.
  • I-131 treatment. Treats thyroid cancer and hyperthyroidism.
  • MUGA scan. Shows the function of the left ventricle of the heart.
  • Parathyroid scan. Studies tumors in the parathyroid gland.
  • Renal scan. Checks your kidneys and can detect tumors or blood flow blockages.
  • Thyroid scan. Tests your thyroid function.
  • VQ (lung ventilation–perfusion) scan. Looks at the air and blood flow in your lungs.
  • Xofigo treatment. Is a palliative treatment for prostate cancer.

Before Your Nuclear Imaging Test

If you're claustrophobic or fear enclosed spaces, talk to your doctor before the day of your test. They can prescribe mild sedation to help you relax during the procedure.

Before your nuclear imaging test starts:

  • Tell your imaging technologist if you're pregnant or think you might be pregnant. Radiation can be harmful to an unborn baby.
  • The tech will ask you questions about your health and any past surgeries.
  • You'll also have a chance to ask any questions about the test.
  • You'll put on a hospital gown and take off any jewelry or metal.

How Do I Prep for My Nuclear Imaging Test?

Your doctor will give you details on how to prep based on the type of test you're having.

We've listed some standard steps for each nuclear imaging test, so you know what to expect.