Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Information and Resources

Font Size

Gallium Scan

A gallium scan is a nuclear medicine test. A nuclear medicine test uses a special camera to take pictures of specific tissues in the body after a radioactive tracer (radionuclide or radioisotope) makes them visible. Each type of tissue that may be scanned (including bones, organs, glands, and blood vessels) uses a different radioactive compound as a tracer. The radioactivity of a tracer decreases over a period of hours, days, or weeks. The tracer stays in the body until it is eliminated as waste, usually in the urine or stool (feces).

During a gallium scan, the tracer (radioactive gallium citrate) is injected into a vein in the arm. It travels through the bloodstream and into the body's tissues, primarily the bones, liver, intestine, and areas of tissue where inflammation or a buildup of white blood cells (WBCs) is present. It often takes the tracer a few days to build up in these areas, so in most cases a scan is done at 2 days and again at 3 days after the tracer is injected. Areas where the tracer builds up in higher-than-normal amounts show up as bright or "hot" spots in the pictures. The problem areas may be caused by infection, certain inflammatory diseases, or a tumor.

Why It Is Done

A gallium scan is done to:

  • Detect the source of an infection that is causing a fever (called a fever of unknown origin).
  • Detect an abscess or certain infections, especially in the bones.
  • Monitor the response to antibiotic treatment.
  • Diagnose inflammatory conditions such as pulmonary fibrosis or sarcoidosis.
  • Detect certain types of cancer (such as lymphoma). A gallium scan also may be done to see if cancer has spread (metastasized) to other areas of the body, or to watch how well a cancer treatment is working.

How To Prepare

Before the gallium scan, tell your doctor if:

  • You are or might be pregnant.
  • You are breast-feeding. If you will no longer be breast-feeding after the test, you will be asked to stop breast-feeding 2 weeks before the test so that the radioactive tracer will not build up in your breast tissue. If you will continue to breast-feed after the test, it is recommended that you not use your breast milk for 4 weeks after a gallium scan because the tracer can be passed to your baby. Some doctors may advise you to stop breast-feeding completely after this scan.
  • Within the 4 days before the gallium scan, 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 results.

Gallium builds up in the large intestine (colon) before it is eliminated in the stool. You may need to take a laxative the night before the scan and have an enema 1 to 2 hours before the scan to prevent the gallium in your colon from interfering with pictures of the area being studied.

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?).

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 29, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

Hot Topics

WebMD Video: Now Playing

Click here to wach video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Which sex is the worst about washing up? Why is it so important? We’ve got the dirty truth on how and when to wash your hands.

Click here to watch video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Popular Slideshows & Tools on WebMD

feet
Solutions for 19 types.
Woman sitting in front of UV lights
Is yours working?
Healthy breakfast
What are you eating?
Young man exercising on bike
How not to get sick at the gym.
MS Overview
Recognizing symptoms.
bowl of yogurt with heart shape
Eat for a healthy heart.
Woman scrutinizing nose in mirror
Tips that work.
close up of leg with psoriasis rash
Know what to look for.
Woman sitting with child
Do you know the symptoms?
lone star tick
How to identify that bite.
young woman in sun
What to watch for.
Thyroid exam
See how much you know.

Women's Health Newsletter

Find out what women really need.