Nuclear probes and intraoperative gamma cameras

Semin Nucl Med. 2011 May;41(3):166-81. doi: 10.1053/j.semnuclmed.2010.12.004.


Gamma probes are now an important, well-established technology in the management of cancer, particularly in the detection of sentinel lymph nodes. Intraoperative sentinel lymph node as well as tumor detection may be improved under some circumstances by the use of beta (negatron or positron), rather than gamma detection, because the very short range (∼ 1 mm or less) of such particulate radiations eliminates the contribution of confounding counts from activity other than in the immediate vicinity of the detector. This has led to the development of intraoperative beta probes. Gamma camera imaging also benefits from short source-to-detector distances and minimal overlying tissue, and intraoperative small field-of-view gamma cameras have therefore been developed as well. Radiation detectors for intraoperative probes can generally be characterized as either scintillation or ionization detectors. Scintillators used in scintillation-detector probes include thallium-doped sodium iodide, thallium- and sodium-doped cesium iodide, and cerium-doped lutecium orthooxysilicate. Alternatives to inorganic scintillators are plastic scintillators, solutions of organic scintillation compounds dissolved in an organic solvent that is subsequently polymerized to form a solid. Their combined high counting efficiency for beta particles and low counting efficiency for 511-keV annihilation γ-rays make plastic scintillators well-suited as intraoperative beta probes in general and positron probes in particular Semiconductors used in ionization-detector probes include cadmium telluride, cadmium zinc telluride, and mercuric iodide. Clinical studies directly comparing scintillation and semiconductor intraoperative probes have not provided a clear choice between scintillation and ionization detector-based probes. The earliest small field-of-view intraoperative gamma camera systems were hand-held devices having fields of view of only 1.5-2.5 cm in diameter that used conventional thallium-doped sodium iodide or sodium-doped cesium iodide scintillation detectors. Later units used 2-dimensional arrays (mosaics) of scintillation crystals connected to a position-sensitive photomultiplier tube and, more recently, semiconductors such as cadmium telluride or cadmium zinc telluride. The main problems with the early units were their very small fields of view and the resulting large number of images required to interrogate the surgical field and the difficulty in holding the device sufficiently still for the duration (up to 1 min) of the image acquisition. More recently, larger field-of-view (up to 5 × 5 cm) devices have developed which are attached to an articulating arm for easy and stable positioning. These systems are nonetheless fully portable and small enough overall to be accommodated in typical surgical suites.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Equipment Design
  • Gamma Cameras*
  • Humans
  • Intraoperative Period
  • Scintillation Counting / instrumentation*