Bone Scans at Valley Radiology

Bone scans are primarily used to detect and diagnose the spread of metastatic cancer. However, they also help physicians evaluate the condition of your bones and detect fractures and other bone abnormalities.

They work by pinpointing molecular (tiny) activities within the body to identify disease in its earliest stages.

Continue reading to learn more about the types of bone scans at Valley Radiology.

What Is a Bone Scan?

A bone scan, or bone scintigraphy, is a type of nuclear medicine imaging technique that helps physicians evaluate the health and condition of your bones and detect abnormalities.

Nuclear imaging means a tiny amount of a radioactive substance, called a tracer, is injected into your vein. It collects inside bone tissue abnormalities as it travels throughout the circulatory system. As it wears off, it gives off a bit of radiation (less than a CT scan), which is detected by a camera that slowly scans your body.

The body eliminates the tracer through urine over the next day or two.

What Does a Bone Scan Show?

A nuclear bone scan (or NM bone scan) is a diagnostic tool used in radiology to assess, detect, and diagnose several bone conditions and diseases, like cancer of the bone, metastasis, and more.

They also help identify areas of physical or chemical changes or follow the treatment progress of certain conditions.

What Are the Types of Bone Scans?

There are several types of NM bone scans, each with a specific purpose. Here are some of the most common nuclear medicine bone scan options:

  • Technetium-99m scan
    This low-cost, easy-to-perform, whole-body diagnostic scan is commonly used to evaluate and diagnose insufficiency fractures (IFs). IFs are a subtype of stress fractures commonly associated with osteoporosis and vitamin D deficiency. It may also be used to detect bone infections, tumors, and metastases.

  • Three-phase scan
    Three-phase bone scans allow physicians to observe changes in how your bones process an injected tracer (radioactive substance) over time. Your physician will use a special camera to take images of your bones immediately following the injection and again several hours later. It is commonly used to detect tiny fractures, infections, tumors, or cancer in the bone.

    • Phase 1 – Injection
      The tracer is injected and absorbed into your bones.
    • Phase 2 – Initial imaging scan
      Images are captured to record the location and amount of tracer substance in your body.
    • Phase 3 – Detailed scan
      The same images are captured, re-recorded, and compared with your initial imaging scans.

  • Whole-body scan
    As the name suggests, whole-body bone scans examine the entire skeletal system. They are commonly used to stage cancer and detect metastasis throughout the body.

  • DEXA scan
    DEXA stands for dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. It is a useful, inexpensive bone scan test using two X-ray frequencies to measure bone mass strength (density). DEXA scan results can provide helpful information about your risk for osteoporosis (bone loss) and fractures. It can also measure body composition (e.g., fat and muscle mass).

  • MRI scan
    A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan is a medical imaging procedure that uses a magnetic field and radio waves to take images of your body’s interior. You lie still inside a large tube for the entire scan. It is commonly used to evaluate and diagnose conditions that affect soft tissues, like tumors or brain disorders.

  • CT scan
    CT stands for computed tomography scan. It is a medical imaging technique to obtain detailed images of the body’s internal structures. This bone scan test combines X-ray images from different angles and can help diagnose muscle and bone disorders like tumors and fractures. It can also help physicians:

    • Pinpoint the location of a tumor, infection, or blood clot
    • Guide surgical procedures
    • Detect and monitor diseases and conditions like cancer, heart disease, lung nodules, and liver masses

How Long Does a Bone Scan Procedure Take?

Depending on the type of bone scans you receive, the procedure can take 30 minutes to an hour. However, you may need to be at the medical facility for two to four hours to allow the tracer to circulate and be absorbed by your bones.

Bone Scan Preparation Tips

Bone scans are painless, but here are a few tips that can help make your procedure more comfortable.

  • Clothing
    At Valley Radiology, you will be asked to change into a patient gown for your bone scan. You will also need to remove all piercings, jewelry, and valuables. A locker will be provided to store your items.
  • Food and hydration
    Bone scans do not require a period of fasting. No preparation is required in this category.
  • Allergies
    Before your appointment, notify your physician or radiologist if you are allergic to or sensitive to medications, contrast dyes, or iodine. Allergic reactions to the tracer are rare but may occur.

If pregnant or breastfeeding, please check with your physician before scheduling your bone scan. Also, let us know if you have any metal in your body (e.g., fillings, spinal fusion rods, hip replacements, tattoos, permanent makeup, etc.).

Understanding the Bone Scan: Normal vs. Abnormal

A normal bone scan test will show that the radioactive substance (tracer) has spread evenly among the bones and that no areas have too little or too much tracer.

An abnormal bone scan shows hot or cold spots. Hot spots are areas of bone where the tracer has collected. These may result from bone cancer, arthritis, infection, or disease.

If you receive abnormal test results, talk to your physician. Depending on your diagnosis, they may recommend additional tests, procedures, follow-up care, or treatment.

Find the Best Treatment With Nuclear Medicine Imaging in Fayetteville, NC

Our dedicated team provides leading-edge nuclear medicine scans and imaging solutions, including bone scans for cancer and other conditions, as part of a comprehensive health assessment. 

If it has been recommended that you have a bone scan test, please call 910.323.2209 to schedule an appointment today.

Please note that a doctor’s referral is required for all bone scan tests and all other services except mammograms.