Bone scan and SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) are nuclear imaging techniques typically used together when viewing the spine. Bone scan with SPECT is particularly useful in detecting metabolic abnormalities, such as small changes in hard-to-see bones, tumors, or blood flow patterns.

How a Bone Scan with SPECT Works

A bone scan with SPECT involves:

  1. A radioactive substance (called a tracer or radionuclide) is intravenously injected. This tracer can be absorbed by bones and emits gamma radiation.
  2. A bone scan is performed using a special scanner, called a gamma camera, that detects gamma radiation to create a planar image of the bones and other tissues.
  3. If an area needs further study, a SPECT scan is performed using a gamma camera that rotates around the body. The SPECT scan has its imaging data sent to a computer and turned into cross-section images.

Areas that have more gamma radiation detection on the images are known as hot spots, whereas areas with less activity are cold spots.

When a Bone Scan with SPECT Is Considered

If a fracture or other bone problem is small or located in a spot that is difficult to see (which is common in the spine given its intricate anatomy), SPECT is typically ordered in addition to the bone scan. The cross-section images from the SPECT scan can be clicked through to view the bones in different planes (cross-sections), rather than just the single plane of a regular bone scan.

Bone scan with SPECT is relatively safe and has few risks. Women who are pregnant are advised not to have the procedure because of radiation risks.