Bone Scan

What is a bone scan?

A bone scan is a type of test done to diagnose or monitor different kinds of bone disease. Bone scans can identify arthritis, a tumor, an infection or a break in the bone (fracture). These conditions will show on the bone scan before they might be seen on a regular X-ray test.

How is a bone scan performed?

A small amount of radioactive substance (tracer) is injected into a vein in your arm. It takes 2-5 hours for the tracer to be absorbed by your bones, so pictures taken with the special bone scanning camera are not usually taken until 2-4 hours after the tracer is injected.

You will be asked to drink extra fluids after the tracer is injected, to help your body get rid of any tracer your bones do not absorb. Areas of your bones which are growing more quickly than usual absorb more of the tracer and therefore show up more brightly as “hot spots” when pictures are later taken of your bones with a specialized scanner.

It may take up to an hour for the actual bone scan and you may be asked to lie very still or to move into different positions.  A radiologist or nuclear medicine specialist will read and interpret your bone scan results.

Why is a bone scan performed?

You doctor may recommend a bone scan:

  • To find cancer or to look to see if cancer from one part of the body has spread into the bone
  • To diagnose the location or cause of bone pain.
  • To help diagnose broken bones or stress fractures
  • To find areas of bone damage caused by infection or other conditions

What are the possible side effects of having a bone scan procedure?

  • Allergic reaction to the tracer (rare).  Patients who are allergic to or sensitive to medications, contrast dyes, or latex should notify their provider.
  • Soreness or swelling where the tracer was injected with a needle into your arm

Your body eliminates most of the radiation from the tracers after one day and completely after 2 days.  There is very little exposure to radiation in a bone scan- half of the radiation that is in other procedures such as a standard X-ray.

How do I get ready for a bone scan?

  • Tell your doctor if you might be pregnant, if you are breastfeeding, if you have taken a medication that contains bismuth (such as Pepto-Bismol) or had an X-ray test using barium contrast material (such as a barium enema)
  • Empty your bladder right before the scan