A bone scan is a test used to identify bone tumors, infection, and fractures of the spine. It can also be used to determine bone density and osteoporosis. This test allows the entire skeleton to be scanned and can pinpoint specific areas of concern. This test is very useful if it is unclear where a problem is in the skeleton. A radioactive chemical, known as a "tracer", is injected through an IV in your hand or arm into the bloodstream and several hours after the injection the scan is performed. The bone scan itself is done with the patient lying down and usually takes 30-90 minutes. The tracer is similar to the exposure of 1 x-ray and the chemical disappears from the body very rapidly-within hours. The chemical tracer attaches itself to areas of rapid changes where the skeleton has increased blood flow indicating new bone growth or repair. On the bone scan, these areas appear as concentrations of dark spots usually indicating there is a problem. This test does not show the details of the bone or soft tissue, only if surrounding bone is reacting to a problem. For example, when a bone is fractured the surrounding bone quickly tries to remodel and repair itself. There is always the risk of an allergic reaction to the tracer however, an allergic reaction to the chemical is uncommon.
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