A bone scan (sometimes called a nuclear bone scan) determines if you have visible metastases in any of your bones. Bone scans are performed by first injecting a small amount of a radioactive marker into your arm. Three hours after receiving the injection (you can have lunch while you wait), you will lie on a table that will slowly move you under a scanner that will record any areas of your bones that have a high concentration of the marker, which collects at areas of metastases, making the mets visible to the scanner.
Bone scans are painless and not at all claustrophobic since the scanning machine is totally open. The actual scanning process takes approximately 35 to 45 minutes.
Bone scans are highly sensitive, so sensitive they also pick up infections, arthritis, and very small bone fractures, as well as mets and tumors. Since bone scans cannot discriminate among a tumor, an infection, arthritis or a break, your doctor may order a CT scan, PET scan or MRI to better characterize the finding.
*Do not confuse a bone scan with a “bone density scan,” (sometimes referred to as a “DEXA scan”), which is used to determine whether or not you have lost bone mass and may have osteopenia or osteoporosis. Bone density scans cannot detect bone metastases.