A bone scan is a useful test to detect and diagnose diseases and disorders related to the bones. This test includes a scan that locates any signs of damage to the bones, monitors the affected area, if any, or detects any metastasized cancerous growth.

Bone scans effectively spot the location of an abnormal bone structure, or breakage (fracture). Those suffering from painful bones for no apparent reason could be asked to undergo this test. Hip fractures or stress fractures that may go unnoticed in an X-ray test are often detected in bone scans. Some patients may be asked to undergo a bone scan test prior to any orthopedic surgery. Mainly, bone cancer, or cancer that has metastasized from other areas of the body is accurately detected through a bone scan.

A bone scan is different from an X-ray test, with regards to accuracy and timeliness. This test involves administration of a radioactive tracer (a radioisotope or isotope) into the body before the test. A small amount of intravenous (IV) marker/tracer is injected into the patient's vein. After three hours, the patient is placed in the scanning device. This procedure may take up an hour. Let us understand the bone scan procedure in further detail.

Procedure for Bone Scan Test

Before the Test
The bone scan test does not require a lot of preparation from the patient's side. But an important point to remember is that women who are pregnant, or suspect that they are pregnant, or are breastfeeding should necessarily inform the doctor before the procedure begins. This is to protect the child from the possible effects of radiation. You are well-advised to speak to your doctor in this regard.

During the Test
A miniscule quantity of radionuclide will be administered in a vein present in the arm.
After this, you will be asked to wait for approximately 3-4 hours, allowing the radionuclide to enter the tissues.
You will be asked to consume 4-5 glasses of water to allow your body to eliminate the residual tracer that does not enter the tissues.
Just before the scan, you will be asked to remove items of clothing and jewelry that you are wearing. You will be asked to wear a hospital gown.
You will have to empty your bladder prior to the scan.
You will then be asked to lie very still on the scanning platform. This is necessary to prevent the incidence of distorted images.
The gamma camera will scan the length of your body, identifying the gamma rays emitted by the tracer present in the tissues. The entire process is painless.
You may be asked to change positions during the course of the scan.
The entire process may take up to an hour.

After the Test
Ensure that your movements are slow-paced as you get up, since you may experience some stiffness post the test.
You will be advised to increase your water intake considerably for the next 2 days in order to flush out the radionuclide from your body.
In most cases, you will be asked to resume your regular lifestyle after the scan is over.
Normally, no side effects are associated with this test. However, if you notice any swelling or redness around the spot where you received the injection, inform your doctor about it. You may be suffering from an allergic reaction.

Understanding Bone Scan Results

The radionuclide element that is injected into the body emits gamma rays. Active cells in the affected area tend to absorb more of the radionuclide element, and therefore, exhibit more "hot spots" than the unaffected areas. "Cold spots" are observed where there has been little or no absorption of the radioactive element in the tissues. This data is captured by the gamma camera, which builds images showing the varying levels of radioactivity throughout the body.

A normal result is when the tracer has evenly spread through the body, without accumulating in selected areas.

An abnormal result will be characterized by the presence of "hot spots" or "cold spots", which indicate uneven distribution of the tracer. Depending on the exact result, your radiologist may ask you to undergo further tests which may include a CT scan or an MRI scan.

A bone scan test is a perfectly safe diagnostic procedure to undergo. Some people express concerns over the possible threats posed due to a radioactive element injected in the body. However, these fears are unfounded, as the level of radioactive element is miniscule, making this a completely harmless procedure.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.