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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.
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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.

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