Bone scans

Doctor showing man an x-ray

Bone scans can check for signs that cancer has spread to the bones. Bone scans are very sensitive and can sometimes be used to find cancer cells before they show up on X-ray or to find out more if an X-ray shows an abnormal area of bone.

DEXA scans

DEXA scans are used to check the density and strength of bones, to see if there is any bone thinning (osteoporosis). They don’t use radioactivity. Read more about DEXA scans.

Before the test

A few hours before the scan you will have an injection of a very small amount of a mildly radioactive substance, or radionuclide, usually into your arm.

You will then have to wait for up to 3 hours for the radionuclides to travel through your body. It’s nice to have someone with you to keep you company if you’re having this test, or bring a book to read, as it takes a while and involves a bit of waiting around.

During the test

When the radionuclides have passed through your body, you’ll be asked to lie down on an X-ray table. A camera will then scan your entire body. Abnormal bone absorbs more radioactivity than normal bone, so these areas will show up on the scan as areas of activity known as ‘hot spots’. The scan can also show bone changes like arthritis.

Will I have pain relief / anaesthetic?

No - apart from a small prick from the injection, you shouldn’t have any pain.

How long does it take?

You will have to wait around 3 hours after having the injection. The scan itself lasts for up to an hour and you’ll be able to go home immediately afterwards.

After the test

The amount of radioactivity used in these scans is very low and safe and will disappear from your body within a few hours.

Bone scan video

Cancer Research UK has a very helpful video on this.

For more information

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