Treatments and tests

Bone scan

What is a bone scan?

A bone scan uses a gamma camera and a computer to take pictures of your bones.

You will be given an injection of a radioactive liquid into a vein in your arm, which will circulate through your body and help show problem areas in your bones.

A bone scan may be used to show bone tumours, infection and fractures in your bones.

Benefits of a bone scan

  • Can show problems in your bones days to months earlier than a normal X-ray.
  • Generally painless.

Risks of a bone scan

Your doctor knows the risks of having a bone scan. Your doctor will consider the risks before recommending you to have a bone scan.

Bone scans are not recommended for pregnant women.

Possible risks include:

  • Very small chance you could develop cancer in the long term from the radiation.
  • If you are breastfeeding, you may be required to stop for a few hours.

Preparation

  • Bring your referral letter or request form and all X-rays taken in the last 2 years with you.
  • Leave the X-rays with the nuclear medicine staff, as the doctor may need to look at them. These will be returned to you before you leave or you will be told when these are ready to be picked up.
  • Leave all jewellery and valuables at home.

Just before the bone scan

  • You may be given a gown to wear.
  • You may be asked to remove any metal objects.

Tell your doctor before the scan

  • If you are or may be pregnant.
  • If you are breastfeeding.

What happens during a bone scan

There are 2 parts to a bone scan and a waiting period between.

The first part takes 20 to 30 minutes, including the time taken to get ready. This will include injection of the radioactive liquid and may include having some pictures taken straight after the injection.

This is followed by, 3 to 6 hours of waiting time.  You do not have to stay in the nuclear medicine department during this time.

The second part takes 30 minutes to an hour, including time taken to get ready.

The total time for the procedure is 4 to 7 hours.

Injection of radioactive liquid

Nuclear medicine staff will inject a small amount of radioactive liquid into a vein in your arm.

Bone scan(s)

You will be asked to lie on a bed or sit underneath the gamma camera. The staff will set up the camera and leave the room while the pictures are taken. They can see, hear and speak to you at all times. You will be able to speak to them at all times. They will tell you what is happening and when to hold still.

The gamma camera may pass over your body while it is taking the pictures. During the waiting time you will need to drink lots of fluid and may go to the toilet as many times as you like. You may eat anything you like and take medications as required.

Consent

You have the right to refuse an examination and may do so if you wish. You may be asked to fill in a consent form.           

When will I get the results?

The amount of time it takes for you to get your results will differ depending on where you get your scans done. The nuclear medicine doctor will look at the pictures and write a report. The pictures may be on films or on a CD.

Ask whether you should wait to take the pictures and report with you, or whether they will be sent to your doctor.

Your doctor will need to discuss the report with you. You will need to make an appointment to do this.

After a bone scan

You will be able to go soon after the bone scan has finished and can continue with normal activities.

  • Staff will need to take out the needle if it is still in your arm.
  • Staff will give you any special instructions
  • The radioactive liquid will pass out of your body in your urine within 2 days. You will not notice it as it is colourless.
  • Drink plenty of fluid to help get rid of the radioactive liquid.

Costs of a bone scan

For an Australian patient in a public hospital in Western Australia:

  • public patient – no cost to you unless advised otherwise
  • private patient – costs can be claimed through Medicare and your health insurance provider

For a patient in a private hospital or private imaging site in Western Australia – ask your doctor or the staff where you are having your test done.

Where to get help

  • See your doctor
  • Ring healthdirect on 1800 022 222


This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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