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Nuclear medicine image specialists conducted more than 15.9 million single-proton emission computerized tomography (SPECT) procedures in 2007.
*Source: Biotech Systems Inc.

Understanding Single-Proton Emission Computerized Tomography

Single-proton emission computerized tomography (SPECT) describes a nuclear medicine test that allows WellStar radiologists and physicians to analyze the function of internal organs with greater accuracy and assurance. While imaging tests like X-rays can show what the structures inside your body look like, a SPECT scan produces three-dimensional images that actually show how your organs work, such as a heart pumping blood or brain activity.

Because it is a nuclear medicine test, a SPECT scan employs both a radioactive substance called a tracer and a special camera that detects the radioactivity and produces images. These scans add a new dimension to your WellStar physician’s ability to diagnose diseases earlier and without invasive surgery as well as manage treatment more effectively throughout the course of the illness.

SPECT can be essential in diagnosing brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and seizure; heart problems, such as blockages in the arteries of the heart, chest pain and heart attack; and cancer, including primary tumors or cancers that have spread to other parts of the body (metastasized). A patient’s prognosis improves greater with SPECT’s ability to pinpoint the disease before it can be detected by other, less-advanced imaging technologies.

Because SPECT involves exposure to radioactive material, concerns arise about the risks. Experts and WellStar physicians and radiologists believe that the information gathered through this test outweigh the minimal risks of radiation exposure. WellStar technologists and radiologists always use the smallest possible dose of radiation necessary.

WellStar Resources and Support

WellStar uses state-of-the-art equipment and innovative digital systems integrated into all of its imaging technologies to ensure quality images at minimum dose levels. Experts including radiologists and other WellStar physicians believe that the information gathered through nuclear medicine tests outweigh the minimal risks of radiation exposure.

Images procured through nuclear imaging can be combined with those from computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to superimpose functional information and anatomy. Single-photon emission computed tomography/computed tomography (SPECT-CT) scanners are able to perform multiple imaging methods at the same time.

SPECT is available at WellStar Kennestone Imaging Center at 340 Building.

Before the Procedure

  • The night before a SPECT exam, you must not eat or drink anything after midnight. However, if your appointment is after 1 p.m., you may eat a light, low fat breakfast with no sugar before 7 a.m. Such a breakfast might include wheat toast and an egg.
  • You should avoid clothing that has any metal snaps or zippers, and you should refrain from wearing jewelry or watches, although rings are acceptable. If you wear elastic or drawstring pants, you might not be required to wear a gown.
  • You should inform your radiologist or another WellStar physician if you believe you might be pregnant or if you are breastfeeding. You should also mention to the doctor if you are claustrophobic.

During the Procedure

  • For each examination, you will be asked to provide your medical history and review it with a technologist, who will also explain the procedure.
  • At the start of the exam, you will receive an injection of a radioactive material called a tracer through a small needle placed in a vein. For most studies, you will wait for the radioactive material to distribute through the area of your body under examination, a process that typically takes from 60 to 90 minutes. For brain scans, you will also be asked to wait in a quiet, dark room so as not to stimulate the brain.
  • The technologist will then help you onto the examining table that slides slowly into the circular opening of the SPECT scanner, which contains a special camera called a gamma camera. This camera detects the amount of radioactive material absorbed by your body and takes pictures as it rotates around you. These pictures are used to create three-dimensional images of your body.
  • During the entire exam, you need to remain as still as possible since movement can blur the images. The entire scan is painless and image acquisition will last for about 30 minutes to an hour. Due to the injection time and the necessary waiting time for the radiopharmaceutical distribution, the entire examination period will last from two to three hours.

After the Procedure

Once the examination is completed, you may resume normal activities. The injected radioactive material does not remain in your system very long, but to be safe, please wait for a few hours before getting close to an infant or anyone who’s pregnant.