Bone scan

A bone scan looks at how your bones are working, and can show if there are any conditions that might be affecting them. This includes issues such as metastases (cancer) in the bones, bone inflammation, fractures, and bone infection.

This scan gives your doctors more information about your condition, and helps them to plan your treatment.

Bone scans are done in our nuclear medicine department, using a gamma camera.

Preparing for a bone scan

There is no special preparation for this scan. You can eat, drink and take any medicines as usual. We will ask you to keep well hydrated, by drinking more than usual between the injection and the scan. A staff member will give you more details when you come in for your scan.

You should be prepared to be at the hospital for up to 5 hours.

If you are breastfeeding, contact the department before your appointment so we can give you more information before you come for your scan.

During a bone scan

You will meet our team of technologists or radiographers and they will explain the procedure to you. You will be given the opportunity to ask any questions about the scan.

You will be injected with a tracer. This is a radioactive fluid, and helps us to see your scans clearly. The tracer gets absorbed by your bones. It takes time for the tracer to be absorbed, so you will need to return to the department for your scan 2 to 3 hours after your injection. Times might vary on the day of the scan. During this time you can eat normally and we’ll ask you to drink slightly more than normal.

When you return to the department, we will ask you to empty your bladder (pee), and then we will take you to the camera room for the scan. You will be asked to remove any metal items, such as mobile phones, wallets or belts.

The scan will take about 45 minutes. You’ll be lying on the camera bed and will need to keep as still as possible. The scan will start with the cameras above and below your head. They will be quite close to you, but will not touch you.

During the scan, the bed will move until we have scanned down to your toes. After this, we might do a 3D scan (SPECT/CT) of part of your body, which can take up to 30 minutes. In total, the imaging can take up to 90 minutes.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding

Because the scan involves an injection of a radioactive tracer, you must tell us if:

  • you are pregnant
  • there is a chance you could be pregnant
  • you are breastfeeding

Please tell us as soon as you receive your appointment, if possible.

For all nuclear medicine tests we check your pregnancy status with you before using any radioactive tracer.

Pain during the test

The injection is similar to a blood test and there is no pain associated with the tracer.

After a bone scan

There are no side effects from this scan and you can carry on with your normal activities.

After the scan you will still have some radioactivity left in your body. For the rest of the day, avoid any non-essential prolonged, close contact with children, and anyone who might be pregnant. This is to reduce the amount of unnecessary radiation to babies and children.

Risks of a bone scan

We feel that the potential benefits of the test outweigh the very small risks. We make sure the amount of radiation you receive is as small as possible.

You can read government information about radiation exposure from medical imaging.

It is perfectly safe for you to travel abroad after your scan, but many airports and sea ports are now equipped with very sensitive radiation detectors. It is possible that the very small amount of radioactivity left in your body could set off a detector as you pass through security. If you intend to travel abroad in the week after your scan, it could be helpful to take your appointment letter with you.

Follow-up appointments

If you already have an appointment booked in clinic to discuss the results of the test, please let our team know.

Your images will be reviewed by our doctors and a report will be sent to the doctor that referred you. You will get the test results from them.

Resource number: 5363/VER1
Last reviewed: June 2023
Next review due: June 2026

Trusted Information Creator. Patient Information Forum

Contact us

If you have any questions about your test in the nuclear medicine department, please contact us.

Phone 020 7188 4112, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm

Email [email protected]

Do you have any comments or concerns about your care?

Contact our Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)

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