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Promoting Radiation Dose Optimization

Frederic H. Fahey, DSc, FACR, FAAPM

President, Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging

Woman on CAT Scan Table

Frederic H. Fahey, DSc, FACR, FAAPM, serves as the director of nuclear medicine physics and PET at Boston Children’s Hospital and is an associate professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School. He is currently president of the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging. Fahey has written more than 70 journal articles and published 18 book chapters; he serves as an expert consultant for the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Whether you are living with heart disease, brain disease, cancer, or one of the many other chronic conditions, one thing for certain is that you have had more than your fair share of doctor’s appointments. Between diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up, it’s an ongoing journey in health care.

For many, part of the follow-up will include imaging of the body. In nuclear medicine and molecular imaging, small amounts of radioactive agents are administered to the patient to allow the physician to examine molecular processes within the body. These procedures, such as positron emission tomography (PET) and single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) scans, are highly effective, safe, and painless diagnostic tools that present physicians with a detailed view of what’s going on inside an individual’s body at the cellular level. For more than 60 years, these studies have been used to evaluate practically all systems within the body, including the heart and brain, as well as to image many types of cancer.

I know that a lot of patients worry about the radiation exposure that can come from the various imaging procedures that are now a part of their medical life. When nuclear medicine and molecular imaging procedures are performed correctly on appropriate patients, however, the benefits of the procedure very far outweigh the potential risks.

Nuclear medicine and molecular imaging professionals are continually looking for ways to optimize the radiation dose so that the patient receives the smallest possible amount of radiopharmaceutical that will provide the appropriate diagnostic information for their physician. What’s more, if an appropriate procedure—one that can provide the physician with clinical information essential to the patient’s treatment—is not performed when necessary due to fear of radiation it can be detrimental to the patient.

The Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging believes that the right test with the right dose should be given to the right patient at the right time. The procedure that provides the most useful clinical information is the one that should be performed. With the knowledge gained from these nuclear medicine and molecular imaging scans, those with chronic conditions can make the best medical decisions.

If your doctor recommends a nuclear medicine or molecular imaging test, or any other imaging test that will utilize radiation, ask these three questions:

  • Will having the imaging test or procedure help improve my care?
  • Are there any alternative imaging tests that don’t utilize radiation?
  • Is the facility where my imaging test or procedure will be done accredited for quality and safety?

It’s also a good idea to keep track of your imaging history and share it with your physician when a new imaging test is recommended.

This blog is featured as part of the Society of Nuclear Medicine’s annual Nuclear Medicine Week (October 7-13, 2012). You can learn more about nuclear medicine and molecular imaging and how it can play a critical role in the detection, treatment and management of diseases at www.discoverMI.org.

Photo: iStockphoto
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