Children's Hospital Colorado

Nuclear Medicine Imaging at Children’s Hospital Colorado

At Children’s Hospital Colorado, we treat the big things, the small things and everything in between.



Doctors at Children’s Colorado use nuclear medicine imaging to diagnose and treat a variety of conditions. We may recommend this imaging procedure as part of your child’s care.

What is pediatric nuclear medicine imaging?

Nuclear medicine imaging is a type of study that uses small amounts of radioactive material (known as radiopharmaceuticals or radiotracers) to help us analyze how your child’s internal organs are working. It is also used to treat certain diseases.

The radioactive materials can be given by mouth or injected through an IV or catheter into the body. Images taken with a special camera show the area being evaluated.

Nuclear imaging tests provide unique information not available other ways. For example, they can see cellular changes that signal early stages of disease. These tests can also help us see whether your child’s body is responding to treatment or how their kidneys are working. We can also treat diseases such as hyperthyroidism, papillary thyroid cancer and other tumors with nuclear medicine.

Your child’s doctor may order one or more of these nuclear medicine studies:

  • MAG3: Helps evaluate how your child’s kidneys are working
  • Gastric emptying: Shows how quickly your child’s stomach empties after a meal
  • Bone scan: Shows if there are any growths in your child’s bones
  • SPECT scans: Helps us assess infections or tumors

What are pediatric SPECT scans?

One of the most common nuclear imaging tests we perform is single-photon emission computerized tomography (SPECT) scan. We often use SPECT scans to evaluate for infections or for tumors.

We may perform a hybrid SPECT/computed tomography (CT) scan to create multilayered images of the body. These images can provide more precise information.

How should I prepare my child for a pediatric SPECT scan?

Here are a few tips to help prepare for your child’s procedure:

  • Take time to talk with your child and explain the scan.
  • Reassure your child that they’ll be safe and comfortable.
  • You may want to bring a comfort item like a stuffed animal, toy or blanket.

What to expect during your child’s SPECT scan

It’s normal for your child to feel anxious about getting a SPECT scan, so it’s helpful to know what to expect. The procedure will generally look like this:

Check in to the hospital

  • Your doctor will advise you when to arrive at the hospital, depending on whether your child needs anesthesia for the test. You will usually arrive between 2 hours and 30 minutes before your child’s scheduled scan.
  • Bring a list of your child’s medicines and insurance card.
  • We’ll give your child an identification bracelet to ensure they get the right test.
  • A nuclear medicine technologist and child life specialist talk with you about the procedure and answer any questions.
  • You’ll also sign a consent form.

We encourage you to stay with your child in the exam room. If you’re pregnant, you cannot be exposed to the radiation used in a SPECT scan, so please bring another adult to the hospital to support your child. Siblings and other children are not allowed in the exam room during the test.

Take the radiotracer

  • The type of test your child is getting determines how your child receives the radiotracer agent. We may give it as a shot, by mouth, inhaled through a mask or through a small tube (catheter) inserted into their bladder.
  • The radiotracer travels through your child’s body to the area we’re studying. This can take anywhere from a few seconds to a few days, depending on the type of test. Your child’s doctor will let you know in advance how long it will take.

Take the images

  • When it’s time to start the test, your child lies down on an exam table.
  • The table passes through a machine with a special camera on top.
  • The camera takes a series of pictures that capture the radiation from the radiotracer in your child’s body. The camera may rotate around your child or stay in one position.
  • We’ll ask your child to stay still for short periods of time while the camera is taking images.
  • The test could take 20 minutes to several hours, depending on the type of test the doctor ordered. We may recommend sedation or anesthesia for longer tests. Your child’s doctor will discuss this with you in advance.
  • The radiologist reviews the results and sends a report to your child’s doctor, who follows up with you on next steps.

What to expect after a pediatric SPECT scan

  • Your child can return to regular activities right away, unless their doctor recommends otherwise. If your child received sedation or anesthesia, you’ll receive specific instructions.
  • The radiotracer slowly breaks down and passes out of your child’s body in urine or stool. Your child should drink plenty of water to help flush it out.

If you have any questions and/or concerns, call the ParentSmart Healthline toll free at 1-855-KID-INFO (543-4636). Caring pediatric nurses are available 24/7 to help answer your questions.

Why choose us for pediatric SPECT scans

As a comprehensive pediatric hospital, Children’s Colorado specializes in caring for children’s unique medical needs. We offer:

  • Expertise: Our skilled Imaging Services team cares for thousands of children each year. An experienced radiologic technologist performs your child’s SPECT scan, and a highly trained pediatric radiologist interprets it.
  • Child-friendly exams: We use appropriate doses of radioactive material to provide a safer, more comfortable experience. Your child also gets age-appropriate support from our child life specialists, who specialize in putting kids at ease.
  • Advanced technology: We use sophisticated equipment to create accurate images of your child’s body, so we can provide accurate diagnosis and treatment.

Learn more and schedule a SPECT scan

For more questions or to schedule a nuclear medicine test, please contact the Children’s Colorado general radiology scheduling line at 720-777-6541.