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Liver and Spleen Scan

Test Overview

A liver and spleen scan is a nuclear scan that is done to look at these organs for disease.

During a liver and spleen scan, a radioactive tracer substance is put into a vein (IV) in the arm. It moves through the blood to the liver and spleen. Areas of the liver and spleen where the tracer collects in large amounts show up as bright spots in the pictures. Areas where the tracer collects in low amounts or does not show up are seen as dark spots. The pattern in which the tracer spreads through the liver and spleen can help find cysts, abscesses, certain types of tumors, or problems with liver function.

Scans of the liver and the spleen are done at the same time.

Why It Is Done

A liver and spleen scan is done to:

  • Help find cysts, abscesses, and diseases of the spleen or liver. If liver disease has been diagnosed, a liver scan can help show how well the liver is working.
  • Check for cirrhosis of the liver. In cirrhosis, healthy tissue in the liver is replaced with scar tissue.
  • Look for cancer in the liver.
  • See if cancer has spread (metastasized) to the liver or spleen.
  • Look for problems of the liver and spleen after a belly injury.

How To Prepare

If you are breastfeeding, you may want to pump enough breast milk before the test to get through 1 to 2 days of feeding. The radioactive tracer used in this test can get into your breast milk and is not good for the baby.

How It Is Done

You will need to take off any jewelry. You may need to take off all or most of your clothes. You will be given a gown to wear during the test.

You will empty your bladder right before the scan.

During the test

The technologist cleans the site on your arm where the radioactive tracer will be injected. A small amount of the tracer is then injected.

You will lie on your back on a table, and a large scanning camera will be placed right above you. It may move slowly above and around your body, scanning for the tracer and recording pictures as the tracer moves into your liver and spleen. The camera does not give off any radiation, so you are not exposed to more radiation during the scan.

You may be asked to move into different positions so the tracer spreads through the liver and spleen. You need to lie very still during each scan so the pictures are clear. You may be asked to hold your breath briefly during some of the scans.

How long the test takes

The test will take about an hour.

How It Feels

You may feel nothing at all from the needle in your vein, or you may feel a quick sting or pinch. You may find it hard to lie still during the scan. Ask for a pillow or blanket to make yourself as comfortable as possible before the scan begins.

Risks

  • Allergic reactions to the radioactive tracer are rare.
  • Anytime you're exposed to radiation, there's a small chance of damage to cells or tissue. That's the case even with the low-level radioactive tracer used for this test. But the chance of damage is very low compared with the benefits of the test.

Steps you can take

  • Most of the tracer will leave your body through your urine or stool within a day. So be sure to flush the toilet right after you use it, and wash your hands well with soap and water. The amount of radiation in the tracer is very small. This means it isn't a risk for people to be around you after the test.
  • After the test, drink lots of fluids for the next 24 hours to help flush the tracer out of your body.
  • Radioactive tracer used in this test can get into your breast milk. Do not breastfeed your baby for 1 or 2 days after this test. During this time, you can give your baby breast milk you stored before the test, or you can give formula. Discard the breast milk you pump in the 1 or 2 days after the test.
  • In some cases, you may develop soreness or swelling at the injection site. Try putting a moist, warm pack on your arm.

Results

The results of a liver and spleen scan are ready in 2 days.

Liver and spleen scan

Normal:

Normal amounts of the radioactive tracer are found in the liver and spleen. No areas of large or small amounts of tracer are seen.

The liver and spleen are normal in size, shape, and location.

Abnormal:

The tracer pattern in the liver may show diseases.

The tracer pattern shows a cyst, an abscess, a collection of blood (hematoma), a lump made up of blood vessels (hemangioma), or a tumor.

The tracer pattern in the spleen may not be in the right place or may show spleen tissue that was missed during surgery to remove the spleen (splenectomy).

The liver or spleen may be enlarged because of a disease or may have an abnormal shape because a tumor is pressing against the organ.

Certain types of tumors may cause large amounts of tracer to collect in the liver or spleen.

Certain types of tumors may cause no tracer to collect in the liver or spleen.

Some conditions cause more tracer to show up in the spleen than in the liver.

Credits

Current as of: September 23, 2020

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Howard Schaff MD - Diagnostic Radiology

 

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