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Bone Scan

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 31, 2022.

What do I need to know about a bone scan?

This test checks for bone fractures or damage. It can help find disease, such as cancer that started in the bone or spread from another area. The test may help find the cause of pain if other tests did not show a medical problem. A bone scan may also be called bone scintigraphy.

How do I prepare for a bone scan?

  • Tell your healthcare provider about the following:
    • All medicines taken in the past week, including vitamins and supplements
    • An x-ray with barium you had in the past week
    • Medical conditions or allergies
    • Problems with your kidneys, such as kidney failure
    • A health condition that limits the amount of liquid you can drink
    • Current or past bone infections, broken bones, or bone diseases
    • Joints that were replaced
  • Tell your provider if you know or think you may be pregnant. The radiation used during a bone scan can harm an unborn baby.
  • Tell your provider if you currently breastfeed your baby. You may need to express and freeze breast milk several days before the scan. Make plans to feed your baby formula or stored breast milk for 2 days after the scan. This will prevent the tracer from passing to your baby through breast milk. Plan to express and throw away your breast milk for 2 days after the scan. Your healthcare provider will tell you how to throw away the breast milk safely.
  • Your provider will tell you how to prepare for the scan. He or she will tell you which medicines to take or not take on the day of the scan. Your provider may tell you to limit or not drink liquid 4 hours before the scan.

What happens during a bone scan?

  • You will be given a small amount of radioactive tracer in your IV. Your healthcare provider may take pictures about 2 to 4 hours after the tracer is injected. This gives the tracer enough time to get into your bones. Sometimes pictures are taken while the tracer is being given. More pictures are taken right after the tracer is in, and then again about 5 hours later. Your healthcare provider will tell you when the pictures will be taken, and how many you will have.
  • You will need to drink several cups of water after the tracer is given. Water helps flush extra tracer out of your body. You will need to urinate before the scan. The results may not be as accurate if your bladder is full during the scan.
  • You will lie on a table while the pictures are being taken. Pillows may be placed under your knees to help support your back. You will need to stay still unless you are asked to change positions during the scan. It may take 1 to 3 hours to do the scan.

What happens after a bone scan?

  • You may need to stay until the pictures are checked. Sometimes the pictures have to be taken again if an image is not clear enough.
  • Ask your healthcare provider when you will get the results of your bone scan.
  • Drink extra water for 24 hours after your bone scan to help flush the tracer out of your body.
  • The area where the tracer was injected may be red, swollen, or painful. This is normal and should go away in a day or two.

What are the risks of a bone scan?

You will be exposed to radiation during the scan. The amount is low, but any radiation can damage cells. A bone scan includes the whole body. This means radiation will not be limited to the body area being checked. The scan may not show areas of bone damage or disease. It may show abnormal areas even when the bone is normal. You may need another scan if the pictures are not clear. This can happen if you move during the scan, or the pictures are taken too soon after the tracer is given. If you had a joint replaced, the parts can make areas of bone hard to see. Rarely, an allergic reaction to the tracer may happen.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

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