In this section
Nuclear medicine is a medical imaging specialty that involves the use of radiopharmaceuticals (also known as radioactive medicines or tracer medicines) for diagnostic imaging (scans), therapy and research. Nuclear medicine imaging combines the use of tracer medicines and gamma
cameras (cameras that can detect the gamma radiation that the tracer medicine emits), to provide images that can see inside the body. While nuclear medicine scans involve radiation exposure (like with X-rays and CT-scans), the exposure is limited as much as possible.
Nuclear medicine scans are performed for many different reasons, including:
Nuclear medicine scans can be performed on most organs of the body, and are commonly used to examine the kidneys, gastrointestinal tract (digestive system) and brain. They can also be used to examine bones.
Nuclear Medicine studies routinely performed at RCH include:
child for their appointment
For some ideas on how to prepare
your child for the procedure, and tips on distracting them and helping them
stay calm during the procedure, see our fact sheet Reducing your child's discomfort
It may be helpful to
your child if the procedure is explained to them before they come in for
their important. Explain that:
Most children can
watch a movie while having their scans, and you are welcome
to bring in a smartphone, tablet, or your child's
favourite movie or TV show to keep your child occupied and
distracted during the scan.
Specialist staff from Child
Life Therapy may also be of benefit for your child. The Child Life
Therapist engages families in imaging-specific education and medical play, as
well as providing distraction and support during procedures. Appointments for Child
Life Therapist support can be made in advance via Medical Imaging or your
for a nuclear medicine examination depends on the type of
scan your child is having, and your child’s individual needs. Some scans
require fasting for the actual imaging sequences, and others require fasting
for sedation – please confirm with your individual instructions at the time of
booking. Distraction techniques are utilised for all scans for all age patients
in nuclear medicine.
child requires an injection, topical anaesthesia will be applied to
the injection site to make it numb – this can be in the
form of a cream or via Coolsense® – a hand-held device that uses
cryotherapy to numb the area. Cream usually takes over 45 minutes to
work, so you will be asked to attend the department earlier than your
scheduled appointment time. You will be advised if you need to do this
when you are given your appointment.
Whether or not your child needs
sedation depends on the type of scan they are
having and their individual circumstances. In cases where a
child is unable to remain still enough or they are very anxious or
distressed, sedation may be required. Your child will be assessed to
ensure sedation is suitable for them. Typical studies that may require
sedation include bone scans, MIBG whole
body scans and brain scans, and this is usually required for
See our fact sheet Sedation for procedures.
your child will be invited into the camera room by a technologist and the
procedure will be explained. Your child will then be positioned on the scanning
bed. Seat belts may be placed around your child to help them remain
still, as well as for safety purposes as the scanning bed is
quite narrow and can move.
child will be administered the tracer medicine,
which is given by:
imaging can take place after the tracer has been administered. It may
involve the camera moving slowly over or around your child's whole body,
or a specific area of their body. Your child is required to keep quite still
whilst the camera is taking images.
time for a nuclear medicine examination is 30–45 minutes,
but there may be multiple scans or sequences required over a longer period of
you will be able to leave straight after the completion of the scan sequences,
unless your child has had sedation. If your child had sedation, they will
be required to remain under the care of the department nurse
until they have recovered appropriately.
will be prepared by the Nuclear Medicine Specialist and sent to the referring doctor.
The report is usually available within a few days but can be received
earlier if required. If you have any questions about why your child
needs a nuclear medicine scan, or questions about the results of your scan,
please speak to your doctor.
Some nuclear medicine
scans need to be performed while your child is asleep under
a general anaesthetic. This is quite rare, but may
be required if sedation will not be effective for your child and their
scan. If your child does need a general anaesthetic for their scan,
you will be given specific instructions for what to do before the scan,
including fasting requirements.
For more information
Health Info fact sheet: Reducing your child's discomfort
Children's Hospital Be Positive (B+): Having a nuclear medicine scan
Children's Hospital: Okee
in Medical Imaging app
Child Life Therapy
Health Info fact sheet: Sedation for procedures
fact sheet: Ionising
Radiation and Health
your doctor or the nuclear medicine staff
How safe is the tracer medicine my
child will be given?
It is extremely rare to have a
reaction to any of the tracers used in nuclear medicine. Specialised
staff or on hand to provide help should any symptoms arise, however unlikely.
Once the scan is complete, your child will pass the tracer (through urine or
faeces) over the following hours or days without any concern.
My child is anxious
about medical procedures and I am not sure they will be still enough for the
scan. How can I help?
To get some ideas of how to talk to your child about
the scan before you come to hospital, see our fact sheet.
Also consider showing your child our ‘Be Positive’ videos of
children having procedures at The Royal Children's Hospital (RCH). Seeing the
videos may help them by knowing what to expect. You can also download our Okee in Medical
Imaging app, which includes games and information especially
designed to help children feel more comfortable about having medical imaging at
Are there radiation risks with this
All medical imaging procedures at RCH have been
justified by a Radiologist or Specialist before the exam is performed. All
imaging procedures are optimised – each study is performed with the aim to
provide the highest quality imaging with the lowest radiation dose to each
For more information on radiation, please see the
Australian Government fact sheet: Ionising
Radiation and Health, or speak to your
Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Nuclear Medicine department. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
Reviewed November 2018.
Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit