A bone scan is a test that looks at the metabolism of bones. Bones are a living organ made up of calcium and phosphorus. A short acting radioactive substance is attached to a phosphorus molecule and injected into an arm vein. Over the next 3-4 hours, the radioactive molecule binds with calcium and is deposited into the bones. Pictures of the bones are then taken. A radiologist (a physician who studies the images) will look for areas of abnormal bone metabolism. Such abnormalities include tumors, infections, arthritis, or trauma. These tests are useful in the detection of hidden cancer, or bone fractures that might not be visible to a simple x-ray.
Three-Phase Bone Scans and Whole Body Bone Scans are two common types of bone scans. A three-phase bone scan is utilized when arthritis or bone infections are suspected. A whole body bone scan is prescribed when cancer is suspected of spreading to the bones, or when the location and nature of a disease is unknown to the physicians. Both types must be ordered by a medical professional.
- Pregnant women should alert their doctors before scheduling.
- For women who are breastfeeding, milk must be discarded 24-48 hours after the procedure.
- X-rays or other imaging studies from outside facilities should be brought with you on the day of the exam. These will be returned to you following the procedure.
- Bone scans should not be done for at least three days after a barium x-ray (upper GI series, barium swallow, barium enema, or small bowel series).
Prepping the Patient
- 32 oz of a non-caffeinated beverage should be consumed one hour prior to the exam
- You may eat and empty your bladder normally.
- Comfortable clothing must be worn. All metal should be removed prior to the exam.
Instructions given to you at the time of your scheduling should be followed. Report to the reception desk of the nuclear medicine department.
The procedure will be explained to you by a nuclear medicine technologist (a skilled professional who will handle the tracer, and create the diagnostic images).The technologist should be notified if you are breastfeeding or pregnant.
During the Examination
You will be escorted to a room where a technologist will inject you with a radioactive tracer (a substance that, once injected into your veins, flows to your bones allowing them to be detected by the nuclear medicine camera) into a vein in your arm.
Whole Body Scan
You will have some free time after your injection; because, it takes a few hours for the tracer to be absorbed by the bones. Please return to the department at the time specified by the nuclear medicine technologist. You will then be escorted to the exam room, where you will be placed on a special scanning table. You will lie flat on your back with your arms lying at your sides. For twenty minutes a camera will traverse your body taking the images. Sometimes, the camera will be positioned over a certain part of your body for additional images. Once the images are taken, you will be free to leave.
Three-Phase Body Scan
A technologist will take a series of pictures of your problem area while you are being injected. Ten minutes later, a second set of pictures will be taken. The technologist will then give you instructions for the third and final phase, which will occur two to three hours after the injection.
When the scan is complete, the pictures are given to a radiologist for interpretation.
Post Examination Information
The radiologist will study the images looking for areas of normal and abnormal bone metabolism and activity. Your doctor will receive a written report from the radiologist in a few days, at which time your doctor can discuss the results with you.
The radioactivity present in your body will decrease over time. In most cases the majority of the activity will be completely gone in 12-24 hours. When preparing food, we ask that you wash your hands thoroughly, so that no radioactivity is transferred to any food. Women who are breast-feeding are advised to discard their milk for 24 to 48 hours after the exam. Most people can resume normal activities.
How to Schedule
All scans of the bone must be scheduled in advance. If you have other exams, not requiring an appointment, be sure to alert the scheduler. This will help the registration process in all studies conducted.
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