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How does a nuclear medicine bone scan work?

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During a nuclear medicine bone scan, a technologist injects a small amount of a radioactive substance known as a tracer into the patient's vein, and a specialized camera takes pictures of the bones once they have absorbed the tracer, according to Cancer.net. No special preparations are necessary prior to the procedure, and the patient is able to return to his normal activities immediately after completion. The test indicates whether the patient has bone damage due to cancer or other diseases.

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The injection of the tracer may sting slightly but otherwise does not hurt, reports Cancer.net. As the tracer moves through the veins over the course of one to four hours, it absorbs into the patient's bones. During this time, the patient must drink several glasses of water and urinate frequently so that the body removes the radioactive material that is not absorbed. The camera moves slowly over the patient's body, taking pictures of the tracer inside the bones. The scan is not painful, but the patient may become uncomfortable from the long period of lying still.

A nuclear medicine technologist performs the procedure under the supervision of a physician, explains Cancer.net. In addition to determining the presence of cancer within the bones, a bone scan also helps doctors monitor how well the patient's cancer is responding to treatment.

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