What is Nuclear Medicine?

Nuclear Medicine uses very small amounts of radioactive chemicals or drugs to diagnose and treat disease. These radioactive drugs are substances that are attracted to specific organs, bones or tissues. The drugs used in nuclear medicine give off gamma rays, which can be detected outside your body by special cameras called gamma cameras. These cameras work together with computers to create images that provide information about the area of the body being imaged.

What is Lymphoscintigraphy?

This study involves the use of a small amount of radioactive material to show injury or disease in the bones. The level of radioactivity used is extremely low and has no side effects.

Lymphoscintigraphy is a diagnostic imaging procedure that is used to identify the sentinel lymph node, or the first draining lymph node nearest a cancer. A radioactive substance is injected into the tissue near the site of the cancer.  A nuclear medicine imaging camera connected to computer screen is used to track the movement of this substance from the injection site to the lymph nodes in the region.  Once the lymph nodes on the path from the cancer take up the substance and become visible to nuclear imaging devices, the lymph nodes can be removed and examined to see if in fact the cancer cells have moved into those lymph nodes.   By selectively identifying the first lymph nodes in the draining pathway of the cancer, the surgeon does not have to remove all of the lymph nodes to determine if cancer cells have spread to the lymph nodes.

This procedure is most commonly performed for patients with breast cancer and melanoma.  Typically, the procedure may be scheduled to be performed the day of surgery or the day before.

What happens during the procedure?

After you check in, the technologist will explain the test to you and answer any questions you might have. A small amount of radioactive material will be injected into the tissue near the cancer.  The injection itself will only take about 15 minutes.  It takes time for the radioactive material to move away from the site of injection, so imaging usually is not performed immediately.

You will be imaged with an instrument called a Gamma Camera. The camera will be positioned over the area to be scanned. The images will take approximately 1 to 1 ½ hours. You must lie still during the actual scan but you will have the opportunity to move at different times during the procedure.

What must be done prior to the scan?

All patients are to check in at the Radiology Department Reception Area located on the first floor of the University Hospital at the designated appointment time. You may want to allow extra time for parking.

Your procedure may involve the use of a drug that is specially ordered for your test.  If you are unable to keep this appointment for any reason, we ask that you call our Scheduling Office at (434) 924-9400 at least 24 hours prior to your appointment if possible.  If you are going to be late, please call us at that same number.


For any questions or concerns

Contact the Radiology and Medical Imaging department at 434-924-9400.