What Is the Procedure for a Bone Scan?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 27 November 2019
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The procedure for a bone scan can vary depending on the specific type of test being performed. It starts with a patient preparation phase, where the patient will answer some questions and may be asked to take a medication. The image acquisition phase is next, where equipment is used to take a series of pictures. This may take an hour or more. When the procedure is finished, the images may be read and the results discussed with the patient.

In bone scans, images of all or part of the skeleton provide information about patient health. The scan may be checking for loss of bone density, signs of cancer metastasis, or other issues a doctor is concerned about. Sometimes the patient needs other tests in addition to the scan, like a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study to provide information about the soft tissue. This can add to the time spent at the imaging center.

When a doctor recommends the test, the patient can ask why it is being ordered and what the test will require. During preparation in the procedure for a bone scan, the patient may be asked about medical history, including any medications, as this information could impact the result. If the test will be safe for the patient, a technician can proceed with an injection of a contrast material. The patient may need to drink water to encourage the contrast to circulate.


Sometimes doctors request a three phase bone scan or other test done in stages. The procedure for a bone scan in these cases requires the acquisition of several sets of images, not just one. The patient may need to leave and come back between sets, depending on how much time must elapse between them. In all cases, during the actual imaging, the patient lies on a table and may be propped up with pillows and blocks for comfort. Imaging equipment is positioned over the patient to take pictures.

A full skeletal scan will take more time. The procedure for a bone scan in these cases requires moving the equipment carefully over the patient's entire body, as opposed to concentrating on one area. In a three phase scan, this process is repeated at each phase. Patients need to lie still during the procedure, as moving can blur or disrupt the images and may cause problems with the results. If patients experience extreme discomfort during the procedure for a bone scan, they can hit an emergency stop button to pause or halt the test.



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