A bone scan is sometimes performed to rule out an inflammatory process (such as
a tumor or infection) or an occult fracture (small fracture not seen on an
A bone scan is performed by injecting a small amount of radioactive marker into an
intravenous line (IV). Three hours later the patient is placed through a scanner
and the radioactive marker will be concentrated in any region where there is
high bone turnover.
A bone scan is a highly sensitive test to pick up
tumors, infections, or very small fractures because these conditions all result
in high bone turnover. It can also be used to determine if a compression
fracture of the vertebral body is old or new, as an old fracture will not light
up and a new one will.
Bone scans, however, cannot distinguish what a lesion
represents, and therefore cannot differentiate between a tumor, an infection or
a fracture. Therefore, this type of imaging study usually needs to be followed
by a CT scan and/or MRI scan to better characterize the lesion.
The results of the test
reveal 'hot' and 'cold' spots. Hot spots appear darker on the image and denote
an area of high tracer uptake, possibly indicating an abnormality (e.g.
infection). Cold spots appear light and indicate the bone absorbed less of the
In many departments, the bone scan is one of the most
commonly performed nuclear medicine diagnostic procedure. X-rays, CT scans and
MRI examinations evaluate the structure of the bone. In contrast, a bone scan
evaluates the functional aspect of the bone diseases. This is very useful in the
early diagnosis of a stress fracture when the changes in bone architecture have
not taken place yet, but the bone scan is frequently abnormal at that stage.
This provides the physician an opportunity to make the diagnosis early, thereby
- There are a variety of situations when a bone scan would be useful. These include but are not limited to:
- Diagnosis of bone infection, known as osteomyelitis.
- Diagnosis of stress injuries, such as a stress fracture and shin splints.
- In patients with cancer, to determine whether the cancer has spread to the bone or not. Therapeutic options in these patients are often determined by whether or not the cancer has involved the bones. Bone scanning is particularly useful because it is possible to evaluate the entire skeleton with a single examination.
- In the evaluation of unexplained bone pain.
When you come to nuclear medicine department, you will
receive an injection of a radioactive compound (such as Technetium-99m MDP or
Technetium-99m HDP). In certain situations (such as for diagnosis of
osteomyelitis), imaging is performed at the time of injection. Otherwise, you
can leave the department soon after the injection, and you will be asked to
return two hours later for imaging. This is done to allow time for the injected
compound to localize in the bones. Depending on the type of information desired,
it takes 30 to 90 minutes to perform the scan. When you come to the department
you will be provided with the information that will include, based on the
information desired by your referring physician, an estimate of how long it will
take to perform the scan.
While performing the bone scan, side effects are not
common, and when encountered are usually mild, such as nausea and vomiting. If
you are pregnant, suspect you may be, or are a nursing mother, please discuss
this with your physician before scheduling the test.
There is no preparation prior to a bone scan. If you are
taking any medications routinely, you can continue to do so on the day of the
bone scan procedure. Unless you are having another procedure that requires you
to avoid food, you can have your regular meals before coming to the department.
You will be encouraged to drink plenty of fluids (water, soft drinks, juices
etc) between the time of injection and the scan which typically will be
performed 2-3 hours later. You will also be asked to empty your bladder