What are bone scans? These tests can reveal problems in the bones caused by infection, trauma, cancer or unexplained bone pain.
Bone scans are more sensitive than X-rays and can typically identify problems days or months earlier than X-rays can. According to the Mayo Clinic, doctors may order bone scans if they suspect one of the following conditions:
- Avascular necrosis
- Bone cancer
- Metastatic cancer
- Fibrous dysplasia
- Paget’s disease
Although bone scans are more sensitive than X-rays, they cannot show differences between normal and abnormal bones by themselves, and they cannot identify some types of cancer. The results are interpreted along with the patient’s symptoms and the results of X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, blood tests and/or biopsies.
Experiencing a Bone Scan
Bone scans involve a small amount of radioactive dye called a “tracer,” which is injected into a patient’s arm before the scan starts. Over the next few hours, the tracer travels through the body and into the bones. Once the tracer is absorbed, the patient lies still on a table while a special camera photographs the radioactive tracer throughout the body.
The dye adheres most to the bones that show regenerative activity. Bone cells naturally gravitate to damaged areas that need repair in an attempt to heal the bone. By adhering to these cells, areas of rapid bone repair show up as bright spots and could indicate problems like arthritis, tumors, fractures or infections. Bones that absorb little or no dye appear as dark spots and often indicate a lack of blood supply or certain types of cancer.
A full-body bone scan usually takes about one hour, and despite the use of radioactive dyes, bone scans carry no more risk than traditional X-rays. The dye produces very little radiation exposure, and the risk of allergic reaction is quite low. Bone scans are usually done by a Miami diagnostic imaging technician, and the results are interpreted by a trained radiologist or nuclear medicine specialist.
People undergoing bone scans are encouraged to talk to their doctors and imaging specialists about the procedure. It’s always best to understand all of the benefits and risks and to know how to prepare for the test.
Diagnostic Imaging Services performs bone scans at our Women’s & Advanced Imaging Center in Metairie. We are accredited by the American College of Radiology in nuclear medicine, meeting or exceeding standards set for quality, reporting, safety, technology and expertise.