Molecular/Nuclear Imaging by Qualified Providers Benefits Patients, Outweighs Potential Risks

February 3, 2005

Molecular/Nuclear Imaging by Qualified Providers Benefits Patients, Outweighs Potential Risks

The recent addition of gamma-radiation and X-rays to the list of “known human carcinogens” by the Department of Health and Human Services’ National Toxicology Program (NTP) should have little impact on the use of molecular/nuclear medicine. The fact that ionizing radiation is a weak carcinogen has been known for decades. The Society of Nuclear Medicine (SNM) has been a leading advocate of maximizing the benefits of nuclear medicine while minimizing the risks. SNM advises that the benefits patients receive from appropriately indicated, appropriately performed diagnostic imaging greatly outweigh potential risks stemming from the radiation exposure.

“Positron emission tomography (PET), computed tomography (CT) scans, fluoroscopy and X-rays are today’s standard of care for diagnosing many medical conditions,” said SNM President-Elect Peter S. Conti, M.D., Ph.D., in reaction to NTP’s action. These painless procedures, administered by qualified molecular/nuclear imaging professionals, provide medical information that may otherwise be unavailable, require surgery or necessitate more expensive and invasive diagnostic tests, he added. SNM Past President Henry D. Royal, M.D., agreed, saying, “SNM remains concerned about patients’ safety and works to prevent unnecessary radiation exposure of patients through the development of procedure guidelines designed to optimize the diagnostic information obtained from nuclear medicine tests.” The society, whose members include molecular/nuclear medicine physicians, technologists and scientists, also strongly supports measures such as the Consumer’s Assurance of Radiologic Excellence (CARE) and RadCARE acts, which seek to enact legislation to ensure that basic educational and training requirements are required for all technologists performing imaging procedures involving radiation exposure. The benefits of nuclear medicine studies are maximized when these studies are performed by certified professionals.

Nuclear medicine procedures, which can determine whether or not certain organs are functioning normally, often identify abnormalities very early in the progression of a disease—long before some medical problems are apparent with other medical tests. This early detection allows a disease to be treated sooner in its course when a more successful prognosis may be possible.

Expertly trained molecular/nuclear imaging professionals perform their work in accordance with strict guidelines and standards for the administration and interpretation of procedures. They carefully perform the most appropriate examination for a patient’s particular medical problem and avoid any unnecessary radiation exposure. Most nuclear medicine procedures expose patients to about the same amount of radiation as they receive in a few months of normal living (since natural background radiation comes from air and space, rocks, soil and even atoms on a person’s body).

Common nuclear medicine applications include the diagnosis and treatment of hyperthyroidism, cardiac stress tests to analyze heart function, bone scans for orthopedic injuries, lung scans for blood clots and liver and gall bladder procedures to diagnose abnormal function or blockages.

The Society of Nuclear Medicine is an international scientific and professional organization of more than 15,000 members dedicated to promoting the science, technology and practical applications of nuclear medicine. SNM is based in Reston, Va.; additional information can be found online at