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What is the purpose of a full-body bone scan?

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Quick Answer

The purpose of a full-body bone scan is to detect, diagnose and monitor various bone diseases and cancer that may have spread from a tumor's first site to bone, according to Mayo Clinic. Doctors use bone scans to determine the cause of bone pain, infection or injury not visible on X-rays. The scan is a nuclear imaging test that recognizes changes in bone. Scanning the whole skeleton enables doctors to detect conditions including avascular necrosis.

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Full Answer

To help examine the bone, a doctor injects a radionuclide, a tiny amount of radioactive material, into a patient's vein, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. The radionuclide collects in hot spots, areas where bone tissue has undergone abnormal chemical and physical changes. The radionuclide emits gamma radiation that a scanner detects and converts into pictures of the bones. Hot spots can reveal the location and age of fractures, and conditions such as arthritis, benign and cancerous bone tumors, Paget's disease, and bone infections and trauma.

Generally, a full-body scan is a low-risk procedure, notes Johns Hopkins Medicine. The amount of the radionuclide that doctors use during the procedure is so tiny that radioactive exposure precautions are unnecessary. Patients may experience minimal discomfort when doctors inject the tracer and allergic reactions may happen, but they are rare.

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