What is a bone scan?

Alterations in the bones can be very difficult to detect pathologies. Fortunately, there are different imaging tests such as bone scan.

Last update: November 13, 2021

Imaging exams are tools that help medical personnel to understand the health status of multiple organs and systems. The bone scan is a test that offers clear images of the skeleton and the possible pathologies present in it.

One of the main uses of bone scan is the detection of neoplastic or metastatic processes in the bone. Studies show that it is possible to calculate the percentage of bone damage in cases of prostate cancer metastasis, for example.

The indications for carrying out this test can be very varied. However, it is recommended to perform it whenever there are symptoms that point to the presence of a bone disease. Fortunately, it is a safe, fast exam with accurate results.

What is a bone scan?

The bone scan is a test belonging to nuclear medicine, so it involves the use of radioactive substances. The administered substances are known as markers and emit small amounts of gamma radiation that will be captured by a special computer.

Markers must be injected into a large vein to travel throughout the body. The bones will absorb the gamma radiation as the markers move. Abnormal proliferation of bone cells will lead to increased absorption of radiation.

The main use of scintigraphy is the diagnosis and monitoring of bone diseases. In this sense, the indications for its realization are the following:

  • Suspected bone metastases from prostate, lung, breast, or other malignancy.
  • Diagnose fractures or trauma that cannot be seen on x-rays.
  • In the presence of chronic bone pain with no apparent cause.
  • Joint, prosthetic or bone infection.
  • Detect diseases such as arthritis, benign tumors, Paget’s disease, and avascular necrosis.
Bone problems are the common candidates to be studied with a scintigraphy.

How it is performed?

First, the technician will inject the marker to be used into a large caliber vein. The puncture can cause some discomfort in some people. However, the mobilization of the substance through the body is completely painless.

It takes 1 to 4 hours for the bones to absorb the marker, so wait for this time to elapse before continuing with the exam. People should drink plenty of water during the wait to increase urine output and remove the non-absorbed marker.

After the necessary hours have elapsed, the medical staff will indicate to lie down on a special stretcher. The specialist will then place an examination camera over the body, which will It will move slowly around the entire body.

The camera will be responsible for capturing images of the state of the bones, so that people must be without moving to avoid technical errors. In some cases, you have to change your position to obtain images from different angles.

Bone scan is a quick process, so the capture of the images usually takes only 1 hour. Patients usually do not have any pain after the procedure. In some cases, it is possible to express some discomfort by staying in the same position.

What is the previous preparation?

Bone scintigraphy is a test that does not require much prior preparation for its realization. However, it is always important to consult with the specialist if you have any questions.

People can eat any kind of food and drink before taking the test, however, alcoholic is not recommended. It is also necessary to inform the specialist about the medications that are consumed regularly, since some compounds such as corticosteroids can interfere with the results.

Finally, loose and comfortable clothing should be wornas you may need to change your clothes at the hospital. In addition, people must remove any metallic clothing (rings, earrings or necklaces).

Risks of bone scan

In general terms, bone scan is a very safe test that carries few risks. The amount of gamma radiation that enters the body is very small, so it will not be able to generate alterations in the cells. In fact, the exposure is less than that of a CT scan.

Multiple studies show that the test should be omitted in pregnant or lactating women. Gamma radiation can significantly affect the baby, so the test should be delayed until a time when it is safe. Nursing mothers should avoid breastfeeding their baby for at least 2 days after the exam.

What do the results mean?

The results of a bone scan are usually ready in a short time and they must be analyzed by a specialist doctor. The marker substance must be spread evenly on the bones that do not present any type of alteration.

On the other hand, areas with an alteration in bone cells present alterations in uptake. In this sense, it is possible to observe lighter or darker areas than in the rest of the bones.

Bone scan is not a specific test, so others will be necessary to find the origin of the alteration. Magnetic resonance imaging, computed tomography and biopsy are useful to complement the diagnostic process.

There are fractures that go unnoticed on common imaging studies. There, bone scan is more relevant.

A safe, fast and reliable test

A bone scan is recommended in all those patients in whom the presence of bone metastases is suspected. It is also useful when diagnosing and monitoring various alterations of the skeletal system.

It is a very safe, reliable and low risk test. However, any doubt or inconvenience presented must be notified to the treating physician. All health personnel are trained to offer the best options available.

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