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A bone scan looks for changes in your bone. The cells in the bone are always active, and a bone scan can find areas where the cells are more active than normal, which could be a sign that there’s a problem such as a cancer or an infection.
The scan can look at all the bones at once, or just look at one particular bone. Although this is an accurate scan, it’s not very specific. So although it can show changes, it can't tell exactly what’s causing that change, and cancer isn't the only cause of bone changes.
You’ll be given an injection into your vein that contains a small amount of radioactivity or radionuclide. The amount of radioactivity is tiny, and it won’t harm you. It travels in your blood to the bones. This takes a while, so you’ll be given the injection and then asked to wait for some time, usually a couple of hours. You may be able to leave the hospital for this time or, if there isn’t anywhere to go, it’s worth taking some things to do while you wait. You’ll be asked to drink lots of fluids to help flush the injection through.
Before you have the scan, you’ll be asked to empty your bladder (wee), as if it’s full it can affect the scan. You’ll have to remove any jewellery or metal, and you’ll be asked to put on a hospital gown. You will lie very still on a couch and a large camera called a gamma camera will take pictures of your bones. The camera picks up areas where there’s more activity, where the cells are repairing and where they're breaking down. None of this is painful.
You’ll be able to go home straight away and carry on as usual. Some doctors ask people not to go near pregnant women or very young children for 24 hours after the scan, because it takes this long for the radioactivity to leave your body. It can help to drink plenty of fluids. The scan isn’t dangerous.
Your doctor can tell you when you’ll get your results, but they’re usually available within a few days.
Content last reviewed: 1 November 2011
Next planned review: 2013
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