A nuclear medicine bone scan shows the effects of injury or disease (such as cancer) or infection on the bones. A nuclear medicine bone scan also shows whether there has been any improvement or deterioration in a bone abnormality after treatment.

A bone scan helps your doctor evaluate how your bones are working and provides information to help diagnose and treat your condition. It can show injury to the bones, the effects of disease such as cancer or infection, as well as any improvement or deterioration in a bone abnormality after any treatment you might be having.

When would I get a Bone Scan?

A bone scan is often used as a follow-up test when the cause of your pain or symptoms needs to be clarified. It may serve to evaluate the source of bone pain, such as foot or hip pain. A bone scan may also evaluate the findings from other diagnostic images or abnormal laboratory results.

A medical provider may recommend a bone scan for a variety of reasons, including:

  • finding difficult-to-find fractures, stress fractures and shin splints
  • evaluating osteomyelitis (infection of the bone), cellulitis (infection of the skin) or to assess a response to treatment (e.g. antibiotics) you might be having
  • evaluating arthritis, Paget’s disease and fractures from osteoporosis (where bones become fragile and are more likely to break)
  • to assess the presence or spread of cancer in bone, then to follow up on the response to treatment
  • evaluating Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS or previously known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy), avascular necrosis, prosthesis loosening or infection.

What Will I Experience?

You will receive an injection of a small amount of radiopharmaceutical into a vein. Sometimes, images are taken with the gamma camera immediately after the injection to look at the blood flow to the area being scanned. These images are referred to as ‘early’ imaging. Whether or not you have this type of imaging will depend on why your doctor has requested the scan.

After two to four hours for adults, you return to have the ‘delayed’ images. These images show how the bones are working. The reason for the length of time between the injection and these images is to give the radiopharmaceutical time to be absorbed into the bones.

The radiopharmaceutical you receive for the bone scan is eliminated from your body through the urine. For that reason, you should drink plenty of fluids and urinate frequently after the injection. How much fluid will depend on each individual, but you should be well hydrated.

For an adult this could be three to four glasses of water. 

Your urine will not change color. Your urine will contain the radioactive material, so it is recommended that you thoroughly wash your hands after going to the bathroom.