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About molecular imaging

Molecular imaging uses radioactive pharmaceuticals to produce images of various organs of the body as well as disease. Not only can we look at the structure of an organ, but also how it works. The images are developed based on the detection of energy emitted from a radioactive substance which is given to the patient either intravenously or by mouth.

How do molecular imaging scans work?

Molecular imaging scans use radiopharmaceuticals to highlight specific organs or disease in the body depending on what type of pharmaceutical the isotope is bound to. The radiopharmaceutical gives off energy in the form of gamma rays which the gamma camera can detect and then turn into an image. This means that we are able to visualise the way an organ is functioning - for example, using a renal radiopharmaceutical we can watch the kidneys fill up and then drain into the bladder.

If we bind the tracer to a phosphate, this will send the radiopharmaceutical from the blood stream into the bone matrix and highlight areas of over-activity in the bones determining fractures, infection or spread of disease. The images show important functional information which can then be combined with other anatomical imaging to give the treating doctors the whole picture. This is therefore of great use to patient management.

What are some of the molecular imaging scans performed?

  • Bone scans
  • Kidney studies
  • Thyroid imaging
  • Parathyroid scanning
  • Gastric emptying
  • Brain scans
  • Post radionuclide therapy imaging  White cell infection scanning
  • Lymphatic drainage studies
  • Gastro-intestinal studies
  • Lung studies
  • Heart studies
  • Pre-operation breast studies
  • Neuro-endocrine imaging

Am I suitable For an molecular imaging Scan?

There are no allergies or reasons that mean you are not suitable for a molecular imaging test. However, if there is any chance that you are pregnant or you are breastfeeding, please notify your referring clinician, and the molecular imaging department on booking your appointment.

How Is The Procedure Performed?

The radiopharmaceutical used is determined by what part of the body or process is under investigation, as some compounds collect in specific organs or bind to specific receptors better than others. It is usually administered into a vein but can also be ingested or inhaled. It is extremely rare to feel any differently after the administration.

Depending on which type of scan is being performed, the imaging will be done either immediately, a few hours later, or even several days after the administration. Imaging times vary, generally ranging from 30 to 60 minutes. Some studies require a series of images at different times after the administration. Occasionally a study will require certain medications or foods to be stopped  about which you would be informed.

While the images are being obtained, you must remain as still as possible. This is especially true when a series of images is obtained to show how an organ functions over time.

Throughout the procedure the Technologist checks the quality of the images to ensure that an optimal diagnostic study has been performed. Once the procedure is complete, it may take time to process and analyse the images before the doctors are able to make a report.

Benefits of molecular imaging scan

  • The functional information provided by molecular imaging examinations is unique and currently unattainable by using other imaging procedures. For many diseases or other conditions, these studies yield the most useful information needed to make a diagnosis and to determine appropriate treatment, if any.
  • molecular imaging is much less traumatic than exploratory surgery, and allergic reaction to the radiopharmaceutical material is extremely rare.

Specifically, molecular imaging can be used to:

  • Analyse kidney function
  • Image blood flow and function of the heart
  • Scan lungs for respiratory and blood-flow problems
  • Identify blockage of the gallbladder
  • Identify bleeding into the bowel
  • Differentiate between Parkinson’s and other neurological diseases  Evaluate bones for fracture, infection, arthritis or tumour
  • Determine the presence or spread of cancer
  • Locate the presence of infection
  • Measure thyroid function to detect an overactive or underactive thyroid
  • Treat thyroid disease
  • Treat neuroendocrine tumours

How Do I Get My Results?

The scan will be analysed and reported by a molecular imaging physician and the results will be forwarded to the referring clinician within 24 hours or before your follow-up appointment.

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