A gallium scan is a nuclear medicine test that can check for problem areas in certain tissues in your body.
A radioactive tracer (tracer) called gallium citrate is injected into a vein in your arm. It moves through your bloodstream and into certain tissues. These tissues include your bones, liver, and intestine, and areas that are inflamed or have a buildup of white blood cells. After the tracer builds up in your body, a special camera takes pictures. The pictures show the areas where the amount of tracer is higher than normal. These areas are called hot spots.
It often takes the tracer a few days to build up. So the pictures (scans) are usually taken at 2 days and again at 3 days after you get the tracer. The tracer stays in you until your body gets rids of it through urine or stool (feces).
A gallium scan is done to:
Before this test, tell your doctor if:
Gallium builds up in the large intestine before your body gets rid of it as stool. So you may need to take a laxative the night before the scan. You may also need an enema 1 to 2 hours before the scan. This is to help your doctor more clearly see the areas of your body that are being studied.
Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have about the need for the test, its risks, how it will be done, or what the results will mean. To help you understand the importance of this test, fill out the medical test information form (What is a PDF document?).
The technologist will clean a site on your arm and then inject a small amount of radioactive tracer. You will need to come back for the scans. Gallium scans are usually done 24 hours (1 day), 48 hours (2 days), and 72 hours (3 days) after the tracer is injected.
When you come in for the scan, you may need to remove your jewelry. You may also need to take off all or most of your clothes. It depends on which area is being examined. You will be given a cloth or paper to cover yourself during the test.
You will lie on your back on a table. A large camera will be close above you. The camera will scan for radiation released by the tracer. It will make pictures of the tracer in your tissues. The camera may move slowly above and around your body. The camera does not produce any radiation, so you are not exposed to more radiation while the scan is being done.
You may be asked to move into different positions so the area of interest can be viewed from other angles. You need to lie very still during each scan to avoid blurring the pictures. You may be asked to hold your breath briefly during some of the scans.
Each scan may take about 60 to 90 minutes.
You may feel nothing at all from the needle puncture when the tracer is injected. Or you may feel a brief sting or pinch as the needle goes through the skin. Otherwise, a gallium scan usually causes no pain. You may find it hard to stay still during the scan. Ask for a pillow or blanket to make yourself as comfortable as you can before the scan begins.
There is always a slight risk of damage to cells or tissue from being exposed to any radiation. The tracer used for this test gives off a low level of radiation.
Allergic reactions to the tracer are rare. Your body will get rid of most of the tracer (through your urine or stool) within 4 days. The amount of radiation is very small. So it is not a risk for people to come in contact with you after the test.
Your injection site may swell or be sore. To get relief, you can apply a moist, warm compress to your arm.
A gallium scan is a nuclear medicine test. A special camera takes pictures of certain tissues in the body after a radioactive tracer makes the tissues able to be seen. The test results are usually ready within 2 days after you had the scans.
The collection and activity of gallium in the bones, liver, spleen, and large intestine is normal. No areas of unusual amounts of gallium are seen.
An abnormally high amount of gallium (hot spot) is present in one or more areas of the body. This could mean inflammation, infection, or a tumor.
You may not be able to have the test, or the results may not be helpful, if:
Other Works Consulted
- Chernecky CC, Berger BJ (2008). Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures, 5th ed. St. Louis: Saunders.
- Fischbach FT, Dunning MB III, eds. (2009). Manual of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests, 8th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
- Pagana KD, Pagana TJ (2010). Mosby’s Manual of Diagnostic and Laboratory Tests, 4th ed. St. Louis: Mosby Elsevier.
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Howard Schaff, MD - Diagnostic Radiology
Current as ofSeptember 9, 2014
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