Nuclear medicine is a specialized area of medicine that uses very small amounts of radioactive materials, or radiopharmaceuticals, to examine organ function and structure. Nuclear medicine imaging is a combination of many different disciplines. These include chemistry, physics, mathematics, computer technology, and medicine. This branch of radiology is often used to help diagnose and treat abnormalities very early in the progression of a disease, such as thyroid cancer.
Nuclear imaging enables visualization of organ and tissue structure as well as function. The extent to which a radiopharmaceutical is absorbed, or "taken up," by a particular organ or tissue may indicate the level of function of the organ or tissue being studied. Nuclear imaging is used to study organ and tissue function whereas diagnostic X-rays are used primarily to study anatomy.