Bone Scan

Also known as: nuclear bone scan, Bone SPECT scan, triple phase bone scan, skeletal scintigraphy.

What is a bone scan?

A bone scan is usually used to assess pain, fractures, infection, or tumors of bone. A radioactive medicine is injected into a vein and then images are taken with a special camera, called a gamma camera. The camera is able to detect the radioactive substance in the bones.

The whole body is scanned from head to toe and helps to identify problems in many different bones in one scan. Usually, a bone scan is performed in conjunction with an abnormal finding on an X-ray, CT or MRI.

Sometimes as part of the test, a SPECT (single photon emission tomography) image is obtained. The camera spins slowly around a particular area of concern such as the spine or the pelvis, and then 3D images can be obtained.

What happens during the procedure?

The bone scan begins with an injection into an arm vein of a tiny amount of radioactive material or tracer. These radioactive tracers travel to the bones and are absorbed by all the bones of the skeleton. Bones that are repairing from injury or infection with active cells will take up a greater amount of the tracer. Sometimes images are obtained during the injection and immediately after the injection.

After the initial injection the IV is removed and then there is a 2 to 4-hour wait to allow time for the tracer to travel to the bones. Then the delayed whole body images and SPECT images are obtained with the patient lying flat on a table while the camera passes slowly over and under the body.

During the wait period you can eat, drink and resume normal activity. The patient will need to drink a lot of water during the waiting period as the tracer is excreted by the kidneys and to allow for frequent urination.

Before the start of the scan, the patient will be asked to empty their bladder. The scan time is usually around 30 minutes. Total time with waiting and scanning is usually around 3-4 hours.

Is any special preparation needed?

In most cases, no special preparation is needed for the test, other than the removal of jewelry before the pictures.

What are the risk factors?

There are few to no risk factors related to a bone scan. A small amount of radiation exposure occurs during the test. Allergic reactions to the radioactive substance are extremely rare.


Reviewed by: Rachel Pevsner Crum, DO

This page was last updated on: April 06, 2021 10:18 AM

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