Bone Scan

General Information | Scheduling, Insurance and Preparation | What to Expect

General information General Information

About Nuclear Medicine

Nuclear medicine exams image bodily function rather than anatomy. They can be useful in finding problems that are not obvious by looking at the structure of an organ or tissue. This is done with the use of small amounts of radioactive materials, also known as tracers. Each tracer is designed to be attracted to specific organs or types of body tissue. Special cameras that can map the distribution of the radioactive tracer create images which are studied by radiologists.

Nuclear medicine scans are very safe. Nuclear medicine has been used in newborns and children for more than four decades and even longer in adults. There are no known long-term adverse effects from such low-dose exams.

About Bone Scans

With a bone scan, images are created from the energy emitted from radioactive material

A bone scan is a nuclear medicine exam in which the patient receives an injection of a radioactive tracer that is attracted to bone. The injection is followed by a scan of the skeleton. Bone scans are used to identify changes in the bone metabolism that may indicate a problem.

Bone scanning is useful in diagnosing a number of benign orthopedic conditions as well as for checking the spread of cancer. When someone suffers from bony pain or a fracture is suspected and x-rays are normal, a bone scan may be performed to further investigate the problem. Bone scans may identify fractures, areas of abnormal growth, arthritis, tumors and infections that won’t show up on an x-ray.

Risks Involved in a Bone Scan

The risks involved in a bone scan are minimal. They include the following:

  • Radiation exposure; however, a very small amount of radioactive material is used and the radiation exposure is well below the level that generally causes adverse affects.
  • Allergic reactions to the radioactive material; however, this is very rare.
  • Discomfort during the injection or while laying on the table for the required amount of time for the scan.

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Scheduling, Insurance and Preparation Scheduling, Insurance and Preparation

Exam Locations

The exam is performed at the following Radiology Imaging Associates partner hospitals in the Denver, Colorado area:

  • Medical Center of Aurora
  • Littleton Adventist Hospital
  • Porter Adventist Hospital
  • Sky Ridge Medical Center
  • Swedish Medical Center
Call the hospital to schedule.


To schedule a bone scan, please call the hospital where the exam will be performed.

Insurance Coverage

Bone scans are usually covered by insurance when ordered by a physician. Check with your insurance company to be sure. Please bring your insurance card with you to your exam.

Conditions to Let Us Know About

In advance of your exam, let your scheduler, technologist, or radiologist know if any of the following circumstances apply to you (or your child):

  • Pregnant or may be pregnant
  • Breastfeeding
  • Claustrophobic
  • Allergies to medications, contrast dyes, or latex

Preparation Guidelines

Following are the general preparation instructions for this exam. You may receive additional or differing guidelines based on your specific situation. Please contact the hospital at which you will have the exam if you have any questions.

  • Bring any previous bone scan results, if not done at an RIA partner hospital.
  • Drink plenty of fluids the day of the exam.
  • If the patient is your child, bring any of the following items to increase his or her comfort: CDs, movies, pacifiers, special blankets, and stuffed toys.

If sedation is required, you must adhere to these food restrictions:

  • No solid food (including baby food and formula for babies) for 6 hours prior to the exam.
  • No liquids, including water, breast milk, and juice, for 2 hours prior to the exam.

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Support for Children

If your child is having the exam, it is important that you provide emotional support for him or her before and during the procedure. If your child is old enough to understand, explain the procedure to him or her. Let him or her know that the exam won’t hurt and that he or she will have to lie very still throughout the exam. Also reassure your child that you will be able to remain in the room during the exam.

What to Expect What to Expect

During the Exam

A nuclear medicine bone scan is a two part exam. Here is generally what will happen:

  1. You will complete some paper work upon arrival.
  2. For the first part of the exam, a technologist will start an intravenous line and you will be given an injection of the radioactive tracer. Depending on the reason for the scan, images may be taken immediately after the injection for about 10 minutes.
  3. You will be given a time to return to the department (usually 2 to 4 hours later) to allow sufficient uptake of the tracer by the bone. During this time, you should drink several glasses of water.
  4. For the second part of the exam, a technologist will position you on a table and a gamma camera will move over your body to record images of the radioactive tracer inside the bones.

The scan will last approximately 30 to 45 minutes.

Additional Measures for Children

If the patient is a child, the following additional measures may be taken:

  • Up to two adults may be in the nuclear medicine room with your child.
  • If the child requires sedation (usually for children under the age of 10), it will be given orally before the scan.
  • If the child is not sedated, a movie or CD may be set up before the scan.

After the Exam


You can return to your normal activities immediately after the exam. Drink plenty of fluids to help flush the radioactive material from your body.

Sedated Children
If the patient is a child and was sedated, he or she may be groggy after the exam. The sedation drug may stay in your child’s system throughout the day. Please anticipate a change in your child’s eating and sleeping habits for the remainder of the day. Although it isn’t essential that your child eat, it is important that your child drink fluids throughout the day. He or she should be back to normal the following day.

Exam Results

A board-certified radiologist experienced in the interpretation of bone scans will analyze the data and results from your exam. If the patient is a child, the exam data will be analyzed by a radiologist experienced in the interpretation of pediatric bone scans. The results will be reported to your physician. Your physician will pass the results onto you.

During the exam, our radiologists and technologists will be happy to answer questions about the exam itself; however, they will not immediately provide you with the results of your exam.

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