Treatments and tests

Nuclear medicine scans

What is nuclear medicine?

Nuclear medicine is a diagnostic procedure. It uses radiopharmaceuticals (tracers) to provide information about the function of specific organs within your body. For example, it might be used to find out how your kidneys are functioning or finding the site of an infection.

Benefits of a nuclear scan

A nuclear medicine scan can be used demonstrate the physiology (function) of organs within the body, whereas as X-ray, for example, only demonstrate anatomy (the makeup of the body).

Risks of a nuclear scan

There are usually no side effects from any diagnostic nuclear medicine scans.


Most nuclear medicine scans require no special preparation. Your doctor will tell you if any preparation is necessary.

Most scans require the injection of a tracer, which is a radioactive dye.

Preparation for children

For patients over 1 year, doctors will use a topical local anaesthetic, to make the injection less painful.

However, the application of this cream can make finding veins more difficult. If you wish your child to have the topical anaesthetic, you will have to attend your appointment earlier, to allow additional time for health staff to apply the topical anaesthetic and find a vein.

One parent is welcome to remain with the child for the injection and the scan. In some circumstances you may be asked to leave the room to enable the test to be completed.

What happens during a nuclear medicine scan?

  • You will be positioned under/over a gamma camera.  This camera detects the radiation emitted from the patient, after injection of the tracer.
  • The test is usually started immediately after the injection of the tracer.
  • An image is produced which represents the distribution of the tracer throughout your body. This is then analysed on a dedicated computer system.
  • Some scans, for example bone scans, may require the patient to return in several hours for delayed images.
  • During the study the patient is required to remain very still, usually for an hour.
  • The nuclear medicine physician sends your report and results to your referring doctor for your next appointment.

Child scans

  • For babies and young children, immobilisation equipment is used to keep them still.
  • Children can watch DVDs during the scan.

Who will perform the nuclear medicine scan?

The scan will be performed by a nuclear medicine technologist. A nuclear medicine physician will prepare a report which will be sent to that doctor that referred you for the scan.

Costs of a nuclear scan

For an Australian patient in a public hospital in Western Australia:

  • public patient – no cost to you unless advised otherwise
  • private patient – costs can be claimed through Medicare and your health insurance provider

For a patient in a private hospital or private imaging site in Western Australia – ask your doctor or the staff where you are having your test done.

Where to get help


Child and Adolescent Health Service – Community Health (CAHS CH)

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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