What is a bone scan?

A bone scan is a nuclear imaging test that is used in the medical field to track and diagnose many forms of bone disease. Your healthcare provider may ask for a bone scan if you suffer from a bone infection, a bone injury that is visible on an X-ray, or you have unexplained skeletal pain.

Thus, we can say that a bone scan is a nice way to detect cancer that has spread to the bones from the main location of cancer. The sources of cancer may be prostate, or breast area, etc.

Why is a bone scan done?

In case you suffer from unexplained severe pain, then a bone scan might be helpful to know the reason. Any change in the metabolism of bones will be visible in this test. The bone scan becomes a helpful test to scan the entire skeleton of the body, thereby detects various diseases like;

  • Arthritis
  • Cancer that has spread to other body parts
  • Fractures
  • Cancer originating in bone
  • Infection in joints
  • Death of body tissues
  • Paget’s disease of bone

How to prepare for a bone scan?

You should remember that you don’t need any specific thing to do before going for a bone scan. There is no need to avoid any particular activities or restricting your diet before going for the test.

However, one thing you need to keep in mind is letting your healthcare professional know if within the past 4 days, you had an X-ray utilizing barium contrast material or if you took a medicine that has bismuth in it. This is because Bismuth and Barium tend to integrate with the results of the bone scan.

Furthermore, immediately before the procedure, your technician may ask you to remove the metal objects or any other jewelry. Moreover, pregnant women or nursing mothers are not made to undergo a bone scan. This may lead to the exposure of the baby to harmful radiation. Thus, you should let your doctor know if you are nursing or you are pregnant.


A bone scan is completed in 2 steps that include injection and the actual scan.

The injection

In this step, a specialist will inject a tracer into your arm or vein. Depending on why your doctor is performing a scan, it may take a different amount of time between injecting the tracer and scanning.

However, your technician may take some images just after the injection. But, after the tracer circulates within your body for 2 to 5 hours, only then your technician takes the main images. While waiting for the scan, your doctor may ask you to drink some glasses of extra water.

The scan

For the scan, your technician will ask you to lie still on a table. During this time, a device having a tracer moves all over your body. Although the procedure is painless, the scan may take up to an hour which you may not like.

Furthermore, your doctor may try to get a series of images that are captured at different times. That means many images may be taken like at the bringing, in the middle, and at the end.

Furthermore, your doctor may order additional imaging tests to see some bones of your body in a better way. The test is called single-photon emission computerized tomography (SPECT) which helps your doctor to know about conditions that are deep into your bones, or difficult to see. During this process, the camera rotates around the body of the patient to take the images.

What happens after the test?

No, follow up care is needed as a bone scan generally has no side effects associated with it. Almost after 2 days, the radioactivity of the tracer eliminates.

What are the results?

A radiologist who has a specialization in reading images will look for the changes in your bones. He/she will try to see if there is an abnormal metabolism in the bones. The areas in the scan will appear as lighter “cold spots” and darker “hot spots” depending on where the tracer has accumulated.

The test is quite sensitive to the aberrations or changes in the metabolism of bones. However, your doctor may not be able to find the exact cause of the abnormality using this test. If your bone scan shows hot spots, that means to determine the cause, more testing is required.


The tests depend upon the radioactive tracers to form the images. That should mean that you develop complications with it. However, the radiation exposure that occurs with these is very low. This eliminates the chance of any major problem associated with the test.

What to expect from the scan?

The test means injecting little amounts of radioactive material into your body. Some cells and tissues which are growing very fast and immensely will accumulate more of the tracer. Your doctor will be able to see the images showing a higher accumulation of the tracer in your affected area. This helps your doctor to understand the abnormality in a better position as it gives an idea about the location of the tumor.