Radionucleotide Bone Scan

What is a Radionucleotide Bone Scan?

A radionucleotide bone scan is a medical image that identifies areas of bone cell activity. The scans are used to visualize factures that an X-ray cannot, infection of the bone (osteomyelitis), and tumors that begin in or spread to the bones. Bone scans can also be used to diagnose conditions such as Paget’s Disease. The test uses a radioactive tracer substance as an aid to view bone metabolism.

Before the Test

You must tell your doctor as soon as possible if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. You should also discuss other medical tests using barium or if you have taken medicine containing bismuth (such as Pepto-Bismol) within a week of your bone scan.

bone scan

During the Test

A nuclear medicine technologist will inject the tracer into a vein. The tracer travels through the bloodstream and into the bones over a period of a few hours. You may be able to leave the test center while waiting. During the scan, a special moving camera will take pictures of the radioactive tracer in your bones. You will be asked to lie still in various positions on an exam table throughout the test. A bone scan may be done on a part or the entire body. This part of a bone scan can take an hour to complete.

After the Test

A radiologist or nuclear medicine specialist will interpret the results. Pictures produced by a radionucleotide bone scan are dark in areas where little or no tracer was absorbed into the bone. This can indicate a disruption in blood supply. Bright spots on the pictures appear where greater amounts of tracer are absorbed. Bright spots can indicate rapid bone growth, fracture, infection, or a tumor. Occasionally, additional imaging tests are required to clarify the results of a bone scan.

For several days after the test, the radioactive tracer will be eliminated in your urine and feces. It is particularly important that you wash your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom during this period.

Risks of the Test

You may feel a brief sting or pinch as the tracer is injected. The site of the injection may be uncomfortable after the test. Allergic reactions to the radioactive tracer are rare.

The level of radiation released during the test is low. However, there is always a slight risk of damage to cells or tissue from being exposed to any radiation.