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Stanford Children’s Health prides itself in providing the most cutting-edge technology available in the field of nuclear medicine, which uses small doses of radioactive material to diagnose medical conditions and larger doses to treat medical conditions.

Nuclear medicine is usually used for diagnosis, but it can also be used for treatment. In some instances, including cases when cancer has been found in thyroid cells or the endocrine system, patients will receive radiopharmaceuticals, or medicine with radiation, which are designed to attack cancer cells.


Stanford Children’s Health advocates the use of PET/MRI scanning in place of PET/CT scanning in many pediatric cases.

A PET/MRI scan combines images from two different technologies, which allows us to see the form and function of organs and tissues. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses a strong magnetic field to create an image of our body’s structures that we can use to determine how they are working. Positron emission tomography (PET) uses tracers to reveal abnormalities in the body that may indicate disease.

Because two tests have been combined into one, PET/MRI scanning exposes children to a lower dose of radiation and requires them to spend less time under anesthesia and at the clinic.

Until recently, these two scans interfered with each other and could not be performed at once. This meant that the images from the scans had to be merged later using a computer program that had significant limitations. With the integrated simultaneous PET/MRI technology, all of the scanning and computational work can be done at once, and additional data can now be gathered because of this all-in-one process.

In children, PET/MRI is most commonly used to diagnose and chart treatment changes for solid tumors, including brain tumors, and pinpoint the cause of symptoms such as unexplained fever or pain. It is also used to diagnose and help develop treatment plans for a wide array of conditions, including neurological conditions such as epilepsy, congenital heart disease, and rare conditions.


Much like PET/MRI, SPECT/CT combines two different technologies to improve the effectiveness and convenience of the imaging. This means fewer visits to the doctor and more accurate diagnoses for patients. SPECT/CT technology also creates clearer images than were possible before.

Single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) imaging is collected after the patient inhales, ingests or injects a small dose of radioactive material. This material is focused toward the part of the body doctors want to investigate. Then, SPECT cameras are used to take pictures of that radioactive material from every angle, creating a 3-D model. Because the radioactive material is moving through the body, SPECT can capture the function of the organ or tissue. CT scans use x-ray technology to take a picture from every angle, capturing the entire organ or tissue structure in images. When combined, the two technologies allow us to see both the 3-D form of the part of the body under study and its function with more clarity than was possible when the tools were used separately.

Due to its imaging power, SPECT/CT is used to diagnose a large number of conditions. Since it can show the function of bone or tissue in combination with its structure, SPECT/CT is often important in diagnosing sports medicine issues and identifying the causes of nagging pain. SPECT/CT is also commonly used to diagnose and guide treatment decisions for certain forms of cancer, including neuroblastoma, osteosarcoma, and hepatoblastoma, as well as epilepsy, gastrointestinal issues, thyroid conditions, and congenital heart disease.

Bone Densitometry

Dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) measures bone mineral density by aiming two x-ray beams with different energy levels at the patient's bones. DEXA is the most widely used and most thoroughly studied bone density measurement technology available today. DEXA is typically used to diagnose and follow low bone density, which in children can be the result of metabolic conditions or treatment for certain chronic conditions.

Targeted Radionuclide Therapy

Targeted radionuclide therapy (TRT) uses radiopharmaceuticals to target specific types of cancer, such as lymphoma; neuroblastoma; and brain, thyroid, and neuroendocrine tumors. TRT delivers radiation to cancer to cure, treat or control the disease, and it can be used either on specific targets or throughout the entire body.

Stanford Children’s Health has a dedicated room for the safe administration of TRT, and our expert physicians provide the best available care to patients who need TRT.