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Bone Scan

Bone Scan

Bone Scan

A bone scan looks for abnormalities in the bones. You may hear it called a radionuclide scan. A bone scan can look at a particular joint or bone. In cancer diagnosis, it is more usual to scan the whole body. The scan involves one injection, but apart from that, it is painless.

The scan uses a large camera called a 'gamma camera'. This is a camera that picks up radioactivity. To have the scan, you must first have a radioactive substance called a radionuclide injected into your blood stream. You only need a very small amount of this radioactive substance - not enough to do you any harm at all. The radionuclide travels through the blood and collects in your bones. More of it tends to collect in areas where there is a lot of activity in the bone. 'Activity' means the bone is breaking down, or repairing itself. These areas of activity are picked out by the camera. They are commonly called 'hot spots'.

Having 'hot spots' doesn't necessarily mean that there is cancer in your bones. Bone can break down and repair for other reasons. If you have arthritis, for example, this will also show up on the scan.

Patient Prep

There is no preparation for this test.

Test Procedure 

You have to arrive at the Imaging Services Department up to 4 hours before your scan to allow for the radionuclide to travel throughout your body and collect in the bones.

When you arrive, you have the injection of radionuclide into a vein. You will then be free to leave the department for a couple of hours. The technologist will tell you exactly when you have to be back. You can walk around or sit down - what you do won't affect the scan.

The doctor will ask you to drink plenty while you are away. It doesn't really matter what you drink - you just need to flush the injection through your body. The doctor will ask you to pass urine just before you return (or when you return) to get rid of any radionuclide in your bladder. Otherwise this could interfere with the scan.

When you return to the department, you usually go straight into the scanning room. You may have to undress and put on a hospital gown first, but this isn't always necessary.

When you are ready for the scan, you will lie down on an imaging table.  The technologist will ask you to keep still during the scan. The actual scan takes about an hour.

After the scan, you will be free to go home. It will take up to 24 hours for the radionuclide to get out of your system. It will help if you drink plenty of fluids during this time.

Patient Prep

There is no preparation for this test.

Test Procedure 

 You have to arrive at the Imaging Services Department up to 4 hours before your scan to allow for the radionuclide to travel throughout your body and collect in the bones.

When you arrive, you have the injection of radionuclide into a vein. You will then be free to leave the department for a couple of hours. The technologist will tell you exactly when you have to be back. You can walk around or sit down - what you do won't affect the scan.

The doctor will ask you to drink plenty while you are away. It doesn't really matter what you drink - you just need to flush the injection through your body. The doctor will ask you to pass urine just before you return (or when you return) to get rid of any radionuclide in your bladder. Otherwise this could interfere with the scan.

When you return to the department, you usually go straight into the scanning room. You may have to undress and put on a hospital gown first, but this isn't always necessary.

When you are ready for the scan, you will lie down on an imaging table The technologist will ask you to keep still during the scan. The gamma camera will then take pictures of the whole of your skeleton. The actual scan takes about an hour.

After the scan, you will be free to go home. It will take up to 24 hours for the radionuclide to get out of your system. It will help if you drink plenty of fluids during this time.

Test Results  

It can take time for test results to come through. How long will depend on why you are having the scan. The results will not be processed unusually quickly if it is part of routine follow up, for example. Usually, a specialist in radiology examines the scan and a report is typed up. The report then goes to your specialist, who gives the results to you. If your GP has sent you for the test, the results will be sent directly to the surgery.

Understandably, waiting for results can make you anxious. It usually takes a couple of weeks for the results to come through. If your doctor needed the results urgently, it would have been noted on the scan request form and the results will be ready sooner than that. Try to remember to ask your doctor how long you should expect to wait for the results when you are first asked to go for the test. If it is not an emergency, and you have not heard a couple of weeks after your test, contact
Test Results  

It can take time for test results to come through. How long will depend on why you are having the scan. Usually, a specialist in radiology examines the scan and a report is typed up. The report then goes to your specialist, who gives the results to you.

Understandably, waiting for results can make you anxious. It usually takes a couple of weeks for the results to come through. If your doctor needed the results urgently, it would have been noted on the scan request form and the results will be ready sooner than that. Try to remember to ask your doctor how long you should expect to wait for the results when you are first asked to go for the test. If it is not an emergency, and you have not heard a couple of weeks after your test, contact your physician to check if they are back.

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