When it comes to bone ailments and aberration, diagnosing an ongoing bone problem can be very intricate and erratic as compared to other health anomalies. Be it joint pain, occult fractures, osteomyelitis, malignancy, or bone metastasis, detection and follow-up of bone diseases can be a long-drawn process. While body fluids tests, X-Ray, CT scans, MRI, PET scans or bone densitometry can rule out major conditions, certain life-threatening bone malignancies need more advanced technologies. A radionuclide bone scan is an advanced radiology procedure used to track several types of bone disease such as benign bone tumors, osteomyelitis, infections, metastatic cancers, and avascular necrosis. Besides also being used to diagnose stress fractures or cracks in the bones, it is very helpful to find out the spread of life-threatening tumors to other parts of the bones. A bone scan may also be used to follow the progress of treatment of certain conditions apart from finding the rate of cancer spread that other diagnostic tests may have missed out on.

Also Read: Bone Cancer: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment
Radionuclide Scintigraphy

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Is Scintigraphy Same As PET SCAN?

PET scan and bone scintigraphy use different mechanisms to detect tumor involvement in the bone skeleton. Bone scintigraphy relies on osteoblastic bone response to the tumor and on the other hand PET measures glucose uptake into the tumor itself.

How Is It Done?

In this nuclear radiology procedure, a tiny amount of a radioactive substance is used for a detailed assessment of the bones. A small amount of a radioactive chemical called radionuclide or tracer is injected into a vein or swallowed. This tracer gets accumulated within the bone tissue at spots also called hot spots. It emits a type of radiation, called gamma radiation, which processes the information of the bones in the form of images indicating an abnormal physical and chemical change or the presence of arthritis, cancerous bone tumors, metastatic bone cancer, bone infections, or bone trauma.

Why Is Radionuclide Scintigraphy Done?

There may be other reasons for the doctor to recommend a bone scan and depending upon what other diagnostics test results have revealed. Performing a bone scan procedure may include the following causes as well:

  • To find out the cause of an unexplained bone pain
  • To assess for any bone trauma
  • To detect fractures that are difficult to locate in X-Ray
  • To look for osteomyelitis and related bone problems
  • To detect conditions such as arthritis and Paget's disease

Also Read: Paget's Disease Of Bone: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

Getting Ready For Radionuclide Scintigraphy

Before the test, the doctor will inform the patient about the test risks and benefits of the tests as well as what to expect. Special preparation is not needed before going for the procedure but some things should be adhered to. The patient should inform the doctor about all medications and supplements that are being taken as certain medicines can affect the test results. Your doctor may ask you not to take them before your scan. If you have any drug allergies or medical conditions, you should let the doctor know about them. Women should let the doctor know if they are breastfeeding or if they are pregnant.

After The Procedure

The process is relatively short, and one can do normal activities after the scan. There are no potential side effects of the test. The doctor may suggest drinking lots of water for the next 24 to 48 hours to flush out any tracer left in your body. They may also ask you to refrain from having a meal at least 2 hours before the test and any physical activities before and after the test. Most importantly, you should not have any other radionuclide procedures for the next 24 to 48 hours after your bone scan.

Also Read: SPECT Scan: Procedure, Risks And Results

Risks Of Radionuclide Scintigraphy

The amount of the radionuclide injected into your vein for the procedure is small enough that there are no major risks against radioactive exposure. The injection of the tracer may cause slight discomfort. There may be other risks depending on your specific medical condition. Be sure to discuss any concerns with the doctor prior to the procedure.  Typically, all radioactive material washes away after two to three days. Allergic reactions to the tracer may occur, though it is quite rare.


Scintigraphy, also known as a gamma scan, is a diagnostic test or imaging study used to evaluate arthritic joints, stress fractures, tumors, osteonecrosis, infection, metastatic bone disease, and reflex sympathetic dystrophy. A tiny amount of a radioactive substance is used during the procedure to assist in the examination of the bones. The tracer collects within the bone tissue at spots of abnormal physical and chemical change and provides more information about osseous physiology.