A bone scan is a radiology procedure used to look at the skeleton. It is done to find areas of physical and chemical changes in bone. A bone scan may also be used to see if treatment of certain conditions is working.
A bone scan is a type of nuclear radiology procedure. This means that a tiny amount of a radioactive substance is used during the scan to assist in the exam of the bones. The radioactive substance, called a radionuclide, or radioactive tracer, collects in abnormal areas of bone.
The radionuclide emits a type of radiation, called gamma radiation. The gamma radiation is detected by a scanner, which processes the information into a picture of the bones.
The areas where the radionuclide collects are called "hot spots." They may be a sign of conditions such as cancerous bone tumors, metastatic bone cancer (cancer that has spread from another site, such as the lungs, to the bones), bone infection, bone injury not seen on a regular X-rays, and other conditions of the bone.
Bone scans are most commonly used to look for the spread of cancer. Because cancer cells multiply rapidly, they will appear as a hot spot on a bone scan. This is due to increased bone activity in the area of the cancer cells. Bone scans may also be used to see how much cancer there is before and after treatment in order to see if the treatment is working.
Other reasons for doing a bone scan may include:
There may be other reasons for your doctor to recommend a bone scan.
The amount of the radionuclide injected into your vein for the procedure is small enough that there is no need for precautions against radioactive exposure. The injection of the tracer may cause some slight discomfort. Allergic reactions to the tracer are rare, but may occur.
If you are allergic to or sensitive to medications, contrast dyes, or latex, be sure to tell your doctor.
If you are pregnant, think you might be, are lactating, or breastfeeding, tell your health care provider.
There may be other risks depending on your specific medical condition. Be sure to discuss any concerns with your doctor prior to the procedure.
A bone scan may be done on an outpatient basis or as part of your stay in a hospital. Procedures may vary depending on your condition and your doctor's practices.
Generally, a bone scan follows this process:
While the bone scan itself causes no pain, having to lie still for the length of the procedure might be uncomfortable, particularly if you have recently had surgery or an injury. The technologist will use all possible comfort measures and complete the procedure as quickly as possible to minimize any discomfort or pain.
Move slowly when getting up from the scanner table to avoid any dizziness or lightheadedness.
You will be instructed to drink plenty of fluids and empty your bladder often for 24 to 48 hours after the scan. This will help flush the remaining tracer from your body.
The IV site will be checked for any signs of redness or swelling. If you notice any pain, redness, and/or swelling at the IV site after you go home, you should tell your doctor as this may be a sign of infection or other type of reaction.
You should not have any other radionuclide procedures for the next 24 to 48 hours after your bone scan.
You may go back to your usual diet and activities, unless your doctor tells you differently.
Your doctor may give you other instructions after the procedure, depending on your particular situation.
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