Nuclear Medicine

UCLA Health nuclear medicine specialists have extensive experience using sophisticated imaging techniques to diagnose and manage diseases. Our knowledgeable, highly skilled team helps children and adults.

Doctors in protective masks discussing the results of testing.
Radiologist preparing patient for PET-CT scanner.

UCLA Health excellence in nuclear medicine

At the UCLA Health Ahmanson Translational Imaging Division, our experts use nuclear medicine procedures to diagnose, manage and treat a range of conditions. We’re skilled at using groundbreaking imaging technology to deliver the highest level of care to people of all ages. Highlights of our program include:

Expertise in diagnosis and treatment: We lead the nation in state-of-the-art treatments using nuclear medicine technology. Our highly skilled specialists work as a team to evaluate how parts of the body are working and provide a precise diagnosis.

Convenient care: We perform nuclear medicine procedures at several locations, including inpatient and outpatient clinics in Westwood, Santa Monica, Thousand Oaks and Santa Clarita. Our compassionate team makes it as easy as possible for you to get the care you need.

Groundbreaking therapies: Nuclear medicine experts work with a coordinated team of specialists to treat neuroendocrine tumors (NETs). These tumors, which start in hormone-producing cells, can develop anywhere in the body. Ours was one of the first medical centers in the world to treat patients with Lutathera®, a targeted nuclear medicine therapy that destroys NET cells while sparing healthy tissues.

Precise prostate cancer diagnosis: UCLA Health nuclear medicine experts use an imaging technique called prostate-specific membrane antigen (PSMA) PET scan to diagnose prostate cancer with unparalleled accuracy. The results of these scans enable us to plan more effective treatments. As one of only a handful of medical centers in the world offering this sophisticated imaging study, we lead the nation in prostate care.

Commitment to research: Our specialists are at the forefront of the latest advances in nuclear medicine technology. We’re actively involved with research that explores how sophisticated imaging scans can help doctors manage cardiovascular disease, cancer and neurological disease. UCLA Health experts are also developing new approaches to detect, evaluate and monitor treatments for lymphoma, lung, colorectal, breast and ovarian cancers using nuclear medicine.

What is nuclear medicine?

Nuclear medicine is a safe and effective type of imaging procedure. It uses very small amounts of radioactive materials (tracers) to help doctors diagnose and manage a variety of diseases. During a nuclear medicine procedure, your doctor uses a large scanner to take detailed pictures of your body.

Other imaging techniques, including X-rays, only show your doctor pictures of the structures in your body, such as your bones. Nuclear medicine procedures provide your care team with information about how organs and other parts of your body are functioning.

The radioactive tracer is attracted to specific organs, bones, tissues or cells. Your doctor uses special cameras that see where the tracers collect and "light up" on the images. This information helps your doctor diagnose and evaluate many conditions.

What can I expect at my nuclear medicine procedure?

Before your procedure, your doctor gives you a small amount of radioactive tracer. Your doctor may inject the tracer into a vein, or may ask you to swallow it or inhale it (breathe it in). Then, your doctor performs an imaging scan. Depending on the type of procedure, you may need to wait a few hours or a few days before getting a scan. The painless scan takes detailed pictures of parts of your body.

After your scan, you can go home and resume your usual activities. The radioactive material remains in your body for about a day and leaves your body naturally when you go to the bathroom.

Reactions to these tracers are rare, but if you have concerns or any allergies, talk to your doctor. Nuclear medicine procedures are safe. The total amount of radiation you receive from a nuclear medicine exam is comparable to the amount you receive during an X-ray.

When the images from your scan are ready, your doctor reviews them. Your care team contacts you to review the results, answer questions and discuss next steps.

Our areas of care

At UCLA Health, we use nuclear medicine procedures to diagnose disease, manage conditions, plan treatment and deliver targeted therapies. Nuclear medicine technology enables us to:

Diagnose conditions: Our experts perform scans of the heart, thyroid, liver, kidneys, gallbladder, lungs and other organs to see how the organs are working and to diagnose a range of conditions. These include cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy and some cancers, such as prostate cancer. We can also detect damage in cells throughout the body and use bone scans to evaluate bone pain, injuries and infection.

Manage disease and plan treatments: We use the results of nuclear medicine scans to gather information about certain tumors, including prostate tumors. Using this information, we can develop the most appropriate treatment plan while lowering the risk of future disease.

Provide effective therapies: Nuclear medicine allows us to deliver radiation therapy directly to neuroendocrine tumors (NETs). NETs develop in the hormone-producing cells of the neuroendocrine system. Using precise nuclear medicine treatments, we target these tumors and destroy them while reducing radiation to healthy tissues.

Nuclear medicine scans and procedures we offer

Our team uses sophisticated imaging and revolutionary technology to deliver the latest advances in care. We specialize in all nuclear medicine procedures, including:

Positron emission tomography (PET) and computerized tomography (CT) scans

These imaging tests create detailed pictures of the body using safe amounts of a radioactive tracer. The images allow us to see how organs are working and evaluate abnormal or damaged tissues. We also use these scans to assess your body’s biological functions, including your metabolic function (how your body uses energy).

After giving you the tracer, your doctor performs the PET scan or CT scan. The tracer collects in certain areas of the body and shows up on the images. Depending on the procedure, these highlighted areas may indicate tumors, evidence of Alzheimer’s disease or problems with the heart or blood vessels.

Cardiac perfusion scan (nuclear stress test)

This imaging study evaluates how the heart muscle is working by looking at blood flow through the heart. We inject a small amount of safe, radioactive tracer into a vein. As the tracer moves through your heart muscle, we watch its movement using a scanner that shows real-time images of your blood vessels and heart. We can identify any damaged areas or blood flow problems based on how the tracer looks on the scan.

We perform this test while you’re resting and after you’ve exercised (nuclear stress test). Your doctor may ask you to walk on a treadmill or do another activity that increases your heart rate before doing the second scan. We then compare the resting images to the post-exercise images.

A cardiac perfusion scan helps us see how much blood is reaching the heart. It allows us to determine the cause of chest pain or to assess damage after a heart attack.

Prostate-specific membrane antigens (PSMA) PET imaging

This advanced imaging study allows us to locate prostate tumors so we can develop more effective treatments. The test uses a safe, radioactive tracer. Your doctor injects the tracer into a vein in your arm. As the tracer flows through your bloodstream, it attaches to specific proteins that develop on the surface of prostate cancer tumors.

Using a sophisticated scanner, your doctor looks at images of your prostate and surrounding organs. They can pinpoint the location of any tumors once the tracer highlights them on the scan. This advanced technology leads to more precise diagnoses and therapies. Learn more about the PSMA PET scan.

Targeted treatment for neuroendocrine tumors (NET)

At UCLA Health, we offer Lutathera, a modern treatment for advanced (metastatic) neuroendocrine tumors of the stomach, gut or pancreas. These tumors are sometimes called carcinoid tumors. As part of a clinical trial prior to FDA approval, UCLA Health experts treated more patients with Lutathera than any other medical center in the nation. This means we have significant experience using this therapy. 

Lutathera is a type of peptide receptor radionuclide therapy (PRRT), a treatment that targets tumors and delivers a high dose of radiation to destroy them. When your doctor injects Lutathera through a vein, it travels through your bloodstream and attaches to the cells of the neuroendocrine tumor. Once it’s attached to these cells, Lutathera delivers a targeted dose of radiation to destroy the cancer cells.

Lutathera (Lutetium 177-DOTATATE) has been shown to reduce disease progression in people with these tumors. To deliver treatments for NETs, we work closely with a multispecialty team that includes oncologists, endocrinologists, surgeons and interventional radiologists. Learn more about the UCLA Health neuroendocrine tumor program (NET).

Meet our team

Our team includes recognized leaders in nuclear medicine techniques that diagnose, manage and treat disease. We work with specialists in other departments to ensure coordinated care for children and adults. Team Directory >

Contact us

Call 310-794-1005 to connect with a UCLA Health nuclear medicine expert.

Find your care

You can trust UCLA Health to deliver an accurate diagnosis and outstanding care using the latest advances in nuclear medicine. Call 310-794-1005 to connect with an expert.