Nuclear Medicine FAQs

Department of Radiology and Imaging
Hospital for Special Surgery


All inpatient Nuclear Medicine studies will be performed at New York Presbyterian Hospital. To schedule an exam, call 1-800-697-7828 (800 NYPSTAT).

Outpatient Nuclear Medicine examinations may be scheduled at New York Presbyterian Hospital by calling (212) 746-4580 or (212)746-4581.

Below is a list of some frequently asked questions, but please feel free to contact us if you need additional information. We are always pleased to assist you.

Bone Scan

Lung Scan

Gallium Scan

Indium-111 White Blood Cell Scan

What is a nuclear medicine examination?

A nuclear medicine examination relies on specific radioactive isotopes or radiotracers designed to detect specific suspected pathology. Radioactive isotopes emit low dose radiation which can be detected and imaged by a special camera. The isotope is chosen to optimally detect what is clinically suspected.

Why has my doctor ordered a nuclear medicine examination?

Your doctor ordered the nuclear medicine examination, a bone scan, lung scan, gallium scan or Indium III WBC scan for the reasons described under the specified examination.

Who performs and interprets a nuclear medicine examination?

Your examination will be performed by a technologist with special training and expertise in nuclear medicine examinations. The technologist functions under the direct supervision of a radiologist. The radiologist will select the radioisotope tracer, the dosage, timing and positioning for the scan as indicated by your symptoms.

What should I do to prepare for my nuclear medicine examination?

Preparation for each type of nuclear medicine examination differs and is described under the specified examination. For most nuclear medicine studies, there is no special preparation required.

What are the risks of a nuclear medicine examination?

The risks are extremely minimal and described under the individual specific examinations.

What are the alternatives to a nuclear medicine examination?

The alternative examination is described under each of the specific nuclear medicine examinations described.

What can I expect after the procedure?

Rarely, localized pain or a bruise may occur at the site of injection. There are no major aftereffects of a nuclear medicine examination.

Will other tests be ordered?

Probably yes, as nuclear medicine tests are in general very sensitive but not specific. The specific follow up examination is dependent on the type of nuclear scan initially performed and the suspected clinical condition.

Bone Scan

Why has my doctor ordered a bone scan?

A bone scan is very sensitive and may identify abnormalities in the bones and joints that may not yet be visible on x-rays.

What should I do to prepare for my bone scan?

It is important to drink several glasses of water or other fluids in order to stay well hydrated. No other preparation for the bone scan is needed.

How is a bone scan performed?

A radioisotope tracer containing a small amount of radioactive material is injected into a vein through a small needle. In some cases an initial scan will be performed immediately after the injection to determine the blood flow pattern to the part of the body being scanned. Following the injection, it takes two to three hours for the radioisotope to enter the bones. During this time you should drink several glasses of water or other fluids. After two to three hours, the scan is performed using a gamma camera which detects the amount and location of the radioisotope in the bones. The scan with the gamma camera takes approximately thirty to sixty minutes.

What are the risks of a bone scan?

An allergic reaction to the injected radiotracer is extraordinarily rare. Also, a small dose of radiation, similar to that obtained from an x-ray study, occurs during the bone scan.

What are the alternatives to a bone scan?

In certain instances an MRI examination may provide information similar to that obtained from a bone scan.

What can I expect after the procedure?

There are no aftereffects from a bone scan. By 48 hours after the procedure, any radioactivity present in the body as a result of the scan has completely disappeared.

Will other tests be ordered?

Based on the results of the bone scan, other tests may be suggested including routine radiographs, and/or a CT, MRI or ultrasound.

Lung Scan

Why has my doctor ordered a lung scan?

A lung scan is ordered to determine if blood clots in the arteries of the lungs are the cause of chest pain, shortness of breath, or abnormal findings on x-rays or laboratory examinations.

What should I do to prepare for my lung scan?

There is no preparation required for a lung scan.

How is a lung scan performed?

There are two parts to a lung scan. The first part is known as the ventilation scan. For the ventilation scan a mask is placed over your face and you inhale a radioactive aerosol. A scan is then performed with a gamma camera which identifies the distribution of the aerosol in the lungs. The second part of the examination is the perfusion scan. The perfusion scan involves an injection of a radioactive isotope tracer into a vein in the arm using a small needle. Immediately after the injection, scans are done with a gamma camera which show the distribution of the injected radioisotope in the lungs.

What are the risks of a lung scan?

There are no significant risks associated with a lung scan. The radiation dose received from a lung scan is similar to that of a chest x-ray.

What are the alternatives to a lung scan?

A CT scan with injection of contrast agent or a pulmonary angiogram may be done as an alternative or in addition to the lung scan.

What can I expect after the procedure?

There are no aftereffects from the lung scan.

Will other tests be ordered?

A chest x-ray performed within six hours of the lung scan is needed for comparison. Based on lung scan results, additional tests (including pulmonary angiography or a CT scan) may be suggested.

Gallium Scan

Why has my doctor ordered a gallium scan?

A gallium scan is ordered when infection, inflammation, or tumor is clinically suspected.

What should I do to prepare for my gallium scan?

Gallium accumulates within the bowel. Laxatives or enemas may be recommended by the nuclear medicine technologist prior to the scan, and 48-72 hours after the injection.

How is a gallium scan performed?

A tracer dose of a radioisotope gallium-67 citrate is injected into the vein through a small needle. A gamma camera scan is obtained 48-72 hours later.

What are the risks of a gallium scan?

There are no immediate risks associated with a gallium scan. The radiation dose of a gallium scan is similar to that obtained from having a chest x-ray.

What are the alternatives to a gallium scan?

Radioactive indium III labeled white blood cell scan, CT, or an MRI examination may be alternatives.

What can I expect after the procedure?

No aftereffects are expected following a gallium scan. Laxatives or enemas may be recommended 48-72 hours following the isotope injection.

Will other tests be ordered?

A radionuclide bone scan may be ordered to compare with the gallium scan. Based on the results of the gallium scan, other imaging tests including a radiographic examination, a CT, MRI or an ultrasound examination may be ordered to further clarify the diagnosis.

Indium-111 White Blood Cell Scan

Why has my doctor ordered an indium-111 white blood cell (WBC) scan?

An indium-111 WBC scan is ordered when an infection is clinically suspected.

What should I do to prepare for my indium-III white blood cell scan?

There is no preparation required prior to the scan.

How is an indium III white blood cell scan performed?

An indium-111 WBC scan involves the injection of radioactive white blood cells into the vein through a small needle followed by a gamma camera scan to confirm or exclude a clinically suspected infection.

What are the risks of an indium III white blood cell scan?

There are no significant risks associated with the scan. The radiation dose received during the procedure is similar to that obtained from a chest x-ray.

What are the alternatives to an indium III white blood cell scan?

Alternatives include a gallium scan, a CT scan, aspiration and/or biopsy.

What can I expect after the procedure?

There are no aftereffects expected.

Will other tests be ordered?

Other tests, including a bone scan and a sulfur-colloid bone marrow scan, may be ordered for comparison with the indium-111 WBC scan. CT, MRI and/or ultrasound examinations may also be suggested based on the results of the indium-ill WBC scan.


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