What is nuclear medicine, how does it work, what are its fields of application and what risks does it carry? Professor Arturo Chiti, Head of PET and Nuclear Medicine at Humanitas, spoke about it in a video interview with Corriere della Sera.

“Nuclear medicine is a branch of medicine that uses substances, called radiopharmaceuticals, composed of a pharmacologically active part and a radioactive part. The pharmacologically active part has the property of localizing in some structures and in some organs, which we can see thanks to the radioactive component. In most cases the administration is done by intravenous injection: the substance is distributed in the body and through special machines we can see where this happens, thanks to radiation that allows you to locate the drugs.

An example of this is bone scintigraphy: “A substance is injected that is localized in correspondence with an increased remodeling of the bone, at that location the dead bone is eliminated and replaced with a new bone; this happens very often in the presence of cancer. The greater the location of the substance, the greater the radiation emitted. Thanks to the machines we observe a higher concentration of radiation in a given area and so we understand the distribution of the drug and therefore the location of the disease,” explained Prof. Chiti.


Nuclear medicine, beyond oncology

Nuclear medicine is more widely used in oncology, but that is not its only application.

“Depending on the medication that is used, in fact, we can see different things: an example is the amount of blood that reaches the heart in patients who have an ischemic disease; there are radiopharmaceuticals that are localized as a function of the flow present in the coronary arteries and this allows us to see if there are areas of the heart that are less sprayed, for example under stress.

Another example can be related to some neurological diseases: certain radiopharmaceuticals are able to localize the presence of deposits of amyloid substance and thus help us assess patients who may have a dementia of Alzheimer’s disease,” said the specialist.


What are the risks? Do you become temporarily radioactive?

“It depends on the type of radionuclide, or how the part of the radioactive drug that is used is made. There are more dangerous radionuclides, which need to be treated with more caution, and others that do not exhaust the amount of radioactivity very quickly. Currently, in modern diagnostics, almost all the radiopharmaceuticals used have a very low half-life – i.e. radiation duration. The precautions therefore vary depending on the medication you are using, but in most examinations these are very simple precautions.


Watch the full interview with Professor Chiti, click here.