About Your Bone Scan

A bone scan is performed for many reasons. You may have a bone scan done to find any damage to your bones or to check for signs of arthritis or an infection. At Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK), a bone scan is usually done to see if cancer has spread to your bones.

A bone scan is done in 2 parts, with a waiting period in the middle.

During the first part of your bone scan, you’ll be given an injection of a substance called a radioisotope. This substance is used to help make it easier for your doctor to see differences in your bones. It contains a small amount of a radioactive material. This material will not harm you and you won’t need to limit your contact with other people.

After you receive your injection, you’ll wait for about 3 hours. During this time, the radiation will reach your bones to help your doctor see areas of disease or infection.

In the second part of your bone scan, a special camera, called a gamma camera, will be used to take pictures of the inside of your body. While the scan itself is painless, you will need to lie on the scan table for 30 to 45 minutes. If you think you will be uncomfortable lying in 1 position for a long time, talk with your doctor before your appointment.

Your bone scan will take about 5 hours.

If you are breastfeeding, you will need to stop for 12 to 24 hours after your bone scan depending on the medication that you get. 

The Day of Your Bone Scan

Things to remember

  • If your doctor prescribed medication to help you with any pain or discomfort, take it 30 to 60 minutes before your bone scan begins.
  • You will have around 3 hours of waiting time in between your injection and your scan. You may want to plan something to do or bring a book with you to help pass the time.
  • If you’re an inpatient, an escort team member will take you to the Nuclear Medicine department.

What to expect

Radioisotope injection

Your doctor or nurse will review your medical history with you and inject the radioisotope into a vein in your arm.

Waiting period after the injection

After you receive your injection, you will wait for about 3 hours until the radiation reaches your bones. While you wait, you should drink at least 2 (12-ounce) glasses of liquids. This will help you urinate, which will to remove any remaining radioactive material not absorbed by your bones.

You can spend your waiting time however you’d like. You can eat and drink, or have other tests done. If you’re an inpatient, you will be taken back to your room during this time. If you’re not an inpatient, you can wait in the waiting area or leave the hospital. If you leave the hospital, we will tell you what time to return. It’s important that you return on time.

Bone scan

About 3 hours after your injection, you will return to Nuclear Medicine for your bone scan. If you’re an outpatient, tell the receptionist that you have come back for the second part of the bone scan procedure. You will need to empty your bladder at this time.

A Nuclear Medicine technologist will help you on the scanning table. You will lie flat on your back for 30 to 45 minutes. Let your technologist know if you’re feeling any pain.

Once you’re comfortable on the scanning table, your technologist will slowly move the gamma camera over your body from head to toe. The camera consists of 2 plates that are either above you or beside you during the scanning process. The technologist will stay in the room with you for the entire process. Your doctor will review your complete body scan and additional images may be taken, if needed.

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After Your Bone Scan

  • When your bone scan is finished, you will return to the waiting area. Your technologist will let you know when you can leave.
  • If you are breastfeeding, ask your doctor what kind of medication you got. You will need to stop breastfeeding for either 12 or 24 hours, depending on the medication. During this time, you can pump your milk and throw it away. After 12 or 24 hours, you can restart breastfeeding. If you have any questions, speak with your nuclear medicine doctor. 
  • If you are not breastfeeding, there are no restrictions after your bone scan and no special care is needed.
  • Most of the radioactive material will be out of your body within 24 hours after your scan. You do not need to limit contact with people.
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