Nuclear Medicine Bone Scan

What is a nuclear medicine bone scan?

A nuclear medicine bone scan is a nuclear medicine study used to evaluate abnormalities involving bones and joints and can be used to detect diseases of the bone at an early stage. A radioactive substance (used as a tracer) is injected intravenously. The material travels through the bloodstream, into the soft tissue, eventually localizing in the bones. An image of its distribution is analyzed to detect certain diseases or conditions including fractures, infections, arthritis or tumors.

Why would my clinician order a nuclear medicine bone scan?

A nuclear medicine bone scan is most frequently ordered to check whether a cancer, which originated somewhere else, has spread to the bones. Many cancers that begin in the breasts, kidneys, lungs, prostate, thyroid, or urinary bladder are most likely to spread, or metastasize to the bones. If metastases are found, periodic follow up bone scans may be ordered to measure the effectiveness of therapy.

What are the benefits of a nuclear medicine bone scan versus an x-ray?

Nuclear medicine bone scans are often more effective than x-rays because they can detect tumor or infection in the bone earlier. Bone scans are useful in diagnosing early arthritic changes, and monitoring both the progression of the disease and the effectiveness of treatment.

What to Expect

After the radioactive substance has been administered, you will wait 3 to 4 hours for the substance to collect in the skeletal system. Patients are free to move around during this time and are encouraged to drink fluids and urinate frequently. Ensuring your bladder is empty before the exam begins eliminates the radioactive material from being concentrated in the urinary bladder, obscuring parts of the pelvic bones.  You are required to lie still during the exam unless prompted to move or change positions. Overall, nuclear medicine bone scans are highly effective and are very safe. You will feel no pain and minimal discomfort during the exam. The radioactive material is quickly released from the body and the radiation dose from this test is similar to most routine x-ray procedures.

Patient Preparation

You may be asked to wear a gown during the exam or you may be allowed to wear your own clothing.

Jewelry and other metallic accessories should be left at home if possible, or removed prior to the exam because they may interfere with the procedure. You will receive specific instructions based on the type of scan you are undergoing.