A bone scan is a
test that can find damage to the bones, find
cancer that has spread to the bones, and watch problems such as infection and trauma to the bones. A bone scan can often
find a problem days to months earlier than a regular
During a bone scan, a
radioactive substance called a tracer is injected into a vein
in your arm. The tracer travels through your bloodstream and into your bones. Then a special camera takes pictures of
the tracer in your bones.
Areas that absorb little or no amount of tracer appear as dark or "cold"
spots. This could show a lack of blood supply to the bone or certain types of cancer.
Areas of fast bone growth or
repair absorb more tracer and show up as bright or "hot"
spots in the pictures. Hot spots may point to problems such as arthritis, a tumor, a fracture, or an infection.
Why It Is Done
bone scan is done to:
- Find bone cancer or determine whether cancer
from another area, such as the breast, lung, kidney,
thyroid gland , or
prostate gland , has spread (metastasized) to the bone.
- Help diagnose the cause or location of unexplained bone pain,
such as ongoing low back pain. A bone scan may be done first to help determine
the location of an abnormal bone in complex bone structures such as the foot or
spine. Follow-up evaluation then may be done with a
computed tomography (CT) scan or
magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
diagnose broken bones, such as a hip fracture or a
stress fracture, not clearly seen on
- Find damage to the bones caused by infection or other
conditions, such as
How To Prepare
Before the bone scan, tell your doctor
- You are or might be pregnant.
are breast-feeding. The radioactive tracer used in this test can get into your breast milk. Do not breast-feed your baby for 1 or 2 days after this test. During this time, you can give your baby breast milk you stored before the test, or you can give formula. Discard the breast milk you pump in the 1 or 2 days after the test.
- Within the past 4 days, you have had an X-ray test using
barium contrast material (such as a
barium enema) or have taken a medicine (such as
Pepto-Bismol) that contains bismuth. Barium and bismuth can interfere with test
You will be asked to drink extra fluids after the tracer is injected. You will empty your bladder right before the scan.
You probably will have to wait 1 to 3 hours after the tracer is
injected before your bone scan is done. So you may want to bring something to read or a project to pass the time. For some
types of bone scans, pictures are taken during the tracer injection,
right afterward, and then 3 to 5 hours after the injection.
You may be asked to sign a consent form.
Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have regarding the
need for the test, its risks, how it will be done, or what the results will
mean. To help you understand the importance of this test, fill out the medical test information form(What is a PDF document?).