A bone scan is a test to look for changes in bone activity, such as injury or disease. It uses radioactive isotopes and tracer chemicals to highlight problem areas.
The test is done to look for bone problems, such as:
Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will go over some problems that could happen, such as:
Some people worry about the use of radioactive material in a bone scan. The amount of radioactivity is small and passes from the body in 2 to 3 days.
The care team will meet with you to talk about:
You will have radioactive tracer chemicals injected 3 hours before the scan. You should drink plenty of fluids between the time of the injection and the scan. You will also be asked to empty your bladder before the scan.
You will be asked to remove any jewelry. You will lie on your back on an imaging table. A camera above and below the table will slowly scan you. You may be asked to change positions as the scan is done. You will be asked to remain still. The camera will detect small amounts of radioactivity in the injected material. This will allow the doctor to see areas where there may be bone injury or disease.
You will be able to leave after the test is done.
You will be in the scanner for 20 to 60 minutes. Sometimes another scan is done after 24 hours.
Most people do not have any problems after this test. You will be able to go back to normal activities.
If your bone tissue is healthy, the scan will show that the chemical has spread evenly to all of your bones. If there is an area of disease, darker or lighter areas will be seen on the scan. These will show the areas with abnormal bone activity.
Call your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care
Bone scan. Cancer.Net website. Available at: https://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/diagnosing-cancer/tests-and-procedures/bone-scan. Accessed September 15, 2020.
Bone scan. Johns Hopkins Medicine website. Available at: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/bone-scan. Accessed September 15, 2020.
Skeletal scintigraphy (bone scan). Radiology Info—Radiological Society of North America website. Available at: https://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=bone-scan. Accessed September 15, 2020.
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Last reviewed March 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Shawna Grubb, RN Last Updated: 3/23/2021