A bone scan, also known as a skeletal scintigraphy, is a highly sensitive two-part nuclear imaging and diagnostic test. It can help identify and track the severity of bone-related problems including cancers, arthritis, infections, fractures, and unexplained bone pain.

How a Bone Scan Works

The first part of a bone scan is the intravenous injection of a radioactive substance (called a tracer or radionuclide) that can be absorbed by bones and emits a type of radiation called gamma radiation. The second part of the test involves a special scanner that can detect gamma radiation and produce pictures of the bones. The tracer collects in areas of abnormal chemical or physical change, often referred to as hot spots.

If a problem in the bone is difficult to see or must be seen in better detail, a SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) scan may be requested in addition to the regular bone scan. SPECT also uses a gamma camera, but the camera takes numerous images while rotating around the body area being studied. The images are then turned into cross-section views by the computer to show more details.