Nuclear Medicine in Switzerland

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Nuclear medicine is a medical specialty that uses very small amounts of radioactive materials, known as radiopharmaceuticals, to diagnose and treat certain diseases. With this specialized area of radiology, the radiation is emitted from inside the body instead of being applied externally (such as X-ray procedures). The radiopharmaceuticals are given to patients by injection, inhalation, or orally to visualize various organs. The radiopharmaceuticals flow through different parts of the body and the radiation that comes from it is detected by a camera for diagnostic purposes or is used for treatment. It provides unique information that cannot be obtained by other imaging procedures.

Nuclear medicine procedures can be used to diagnose and treat a wide range of diseases. These include lymphomas, hyperthyroidism, many types of cancer, gastrointestinal disorders, heart disease, endocrine disorders, neurological disorders, and other abnormalities. Common nuclear medicine procedures are as follows:

Diagnostic procedures:

  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan, which is widely used to diagnose heart diseases, as well as the staging, response assessment, and evaluation of recurrence in many types of cancer.
  • Myocardial perfusion imaging, which is an imaging test that can show how blood is flowing through the heart. It is used to compare the blood flow to the myocardium at exercise and rest.
  • Renal scan to determine the drainage and perfusion of the kidneys, as well as allowing for the calculation of differential function.
  • Sentinel node imaging, which is used to assess lymphatic drainage of a tumor, and can be used in different types of cancer to guide the surgery. The tracer is injected into a tumor to identify the draining lymph nodes.

Therapeutic procedures:

  • Brachytherapy, which involves the insertion of a radioactive source, such as iridium-192, inside or near a tumor to kill cancer cells without harming neighboring cells.
  • Thyroid ablation, which uses sodium iodide containing iodide-131.
  • Radioimmunotherapy (RIT), which combines nuclear medicine (radiation therapy) with immunotherapy.

How Long Should I Stay in Switzerland?

You should be able to leave the hospital on the same day. However, since it can take 2-5 days until the radioactive materials leave your body, it is best that you stay in Switzerland during this time. After diagnostic procedures, such as PET scan, you will usually need to see your doctor again within two days to discuss the results. Make sure to get a letter from your doctor before traveling home as radioactivity can show up on scanning machines at airports.

What's the Expected Recovery Time?

The recovery time can take around 2 to 5 days, which is the time needed for the radioactive materials to gradually leave your body. Make sure to avoid contact with other people, especially infants and pregnant women. This means that you need to take time off work, prepare your own food, wash your clothes separately, and avoid sleeping with another person during your recovery time. After therapeutic procedures, you may experience some pain and swelling, so ensure to rest as much as possible.

What Aftercare is Required?

If you experience any pain and swelling, you can place an ice pack over the area. In most cases, your doctor will prescribe pain medication. Drink plenty of water to help flush the radioactive material out of your body. Your doctor will give you detailed instructions, which may include a special diet and restrictions. For some types of diseases, regular checkups are important. 

What's the Success Rate?

Thanks to the continuous advancement of nuclear medicine, the procedures are highly successful and safe. Nuclear medicine diagnostic procedures have been used for more than 50 years and there are no known long-term side effects. However, there are still some temporary side effects, such as allergic reaction, pain, swelling, and redness.

Are there Alternatives?

The alternative depends on the type of procedure and the condition you have. For example, you can undergo an MRI or CT scan as the alternative to a PET scan. If you do not want to undergo nuclear medicine procedures, make sure to talk to your doctor about the best alternative for your specific condition.

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