Bone Scan

bone scan

Bone scans use radionuclides to detect areas of the bone which are growing or being repaired. A radionuclide (sometimes called a radioisotope or isotope) is a chemical which emits a type of radioactivity called gamma rays. A tiny amount of radionuclide is put into the body, usually by an injection into a vein.

Cells which are most 'active' in the target tissue or organ will take up more of the radionuclide. So, active parts of the tissue will emit more gamma rays than less active or inactive parts.
Gamma rays are similar to X-rays and are detected by a device called a gamma camera. The rays are then converted into an electrical signal and sent to a computer. The computer builds a picture by converting the differing intensities of radioactivity emitted into different colors or shades of grey. For example, areas of the target organ or tissue which emit lots of gamma rays may be shown as red spots ('hot spots') on the picture on the computer monitor. Areas which emit low levels of gamma rays may be shown as blue ('cold spots').

What is a bone scan used for?

A bone scan is used to detect areas of bone where there is cancer, infection, or damage. These areas of activity are seen as 'hot spots' on the scan picture.

What happens during a bone scan?

In a bone scan a small quantity of radionuclide is injected into a vein in your arm. It then takes some hours for the radionuclide to travel to the target tissue, and to be 'taken' into the active cells. You will need to lie on a couch while the gamma camera detects the gamma rays coming from your body, and the computer turns the information into a picture. Some pictures can take 20 minutes or more to expose. The number of pictures taken, and the time interval between each picture, vary depending on what is being scanned. However, for bone scans, two or more pictures are usually needed. Each picture may be taken several hours apart. So, the whole process can take several hours.

What preparation do I need?

Your hospital should provide you with information regarding any special arrangements.

This test should not be carried out in pregnant women.

You should also inform your hospital if you are breast-feeding, as special precautions may be necessary.

What should I expect after a bone scan?

You may be instructed to take special precautions after urinating, to flush the toilet twice and to wash your hands thoroughly as the radioactive material is being excreted from your body. If you have contact with children or pregnant women you should let your doctor know.

Are there any risks with radioisotope scans?

The radioactive chemicals used in radionuclide scans are considered to be safe, and they leave the body quickly in the urine. The dose of radiation that your body receives is very small.

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