Bone scan

Synonyms: Bone scintigraphy

Medical Specialties: Oncology, Orthopedics, Radiology

Clinical Definition

A bone scan is a nuclear imaging test that shows skeleton metabolism and cell activity. During the procedure, a radionuclide is injected into a vein. Gamma radiation is omitted from the radionuclide and collects in areas of the bone tissue where there are abnormalities. The areas where the radiation has collected are detected by a scanner, and images of the bones are processed. 

In Our Own Words

A bone scan is a diagnostic scanning test used to determine various bone diseases. Bone scans are different from bone density scans, or DEXA scans, which are more common and used to detect osteoporosis. A bone scan involves injecting a small amount of radioactive material into a vein in the body. The material travels through the bloodstream and collects in an area of the bone that has abnormal tissue, such as cancer. A specialized scanner called a gamma camera is then used to take pictures of the bones.  


The small amount of radiation used in the test is usually not harmful and is excreted through urine. A bone scan may be performed in order to diagnose a condition, such as a bone infection or unexplained bone pain. It is also used to determine if cancer is in the bones. 

Relevant Conditions
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  • John Hopkins Medicine. “Bone Scan.” Accessed August 2013.
  • Boston Children’s Hospital. “Bone Scan.” Accessed August 2013.
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