What is a gallium scan?
A gallium scan is a nuclear medicine test. It can find cancer, infection and inflammation in the body.
During a gallium scan, a healthcare provider injects a small amount of radioactive material into your bloodstream. Then a special camera takes pictures of the gallium inside your body.
What kind of problems does a gallium scan look for?
A gallium scan can help diagnose:
- Cancer, such as Hodgkin lymphoma.
- Infection, such as an abscess (collection of pus) or osteomyelitis (bone infection).
- Inflammatory conditions (for example, pulmonary fibrosis or sarcoidosis).
The test is often used when a person has a fever for an unknown reason. It also frequently looks for remaining cancer cells after a person has had treatment.
Is a nuclear scan dangerous?
A gallium test isn’t dangerous. It uses a minimal amount of radiation, often the same amount as a few X-rays.
Who performs a gallium scan?
A specialist in a hospital’s nuclear medicine department called a radiologist usually performs this test.
How does the gallium scan work?
When gallium is injected into your body, it attaches to proteins in your blood. Then it travels through your body and gathers in places where there is inflammation or infection. It takes a couple of days for the gallium to circulate and settle. Gallium sends out radioactive gamma rays, which a gamma camera can detect. A gamma camera takes pictures and sends them to a computer. The computer images show different colors (for example, red may mean a lot or gallium and blue may mean none). Then a radiologist can examine the images to find problems.
How do I prepare for a gallium scan?
A gallium test usually doesn’t require any special preparation, but your healthcare provider will give you instructions if needed. Tell your healthcare provider if you’re pregnant or might be pregnant before having a gallium scan. Exposure to radiation can hurt a developing fetus. Also, tell your healthcare provider if you’re breastfeeding. You may have to use formula until the gallium is out of your body. Your healthcare provider may ask you to take a laxative before the test. It will make you go to the bathroom to clear waste (poop) out of your bowel. Emptying your bowel can help make the pictures clearer.
What can I expect during a gallium scan?
A gallium test usually requires two or three visits to the nuclear medicine department. During the first visit, the radiologist will inject gallium into a vein in your arm. During the second visit, one or two days later, the nuclear medicine team will:
- Have you remove your clothes and wear a hospital gown.
- Ask you to take off any metal, such as jewelry.
- Instruct you to lie down on a table.
- Move the camera around your body slowly and closely to take pictures. (The camera doesn’t release radiation; it just searches for radiation from the gallium in your body.)
- Tell you to move into different positions and hold still.
The process usually takes about an hour. The team may ask you to come back again in a day or two for a third visit to repeat the pictures.
What can I expect after the test?
You’ll go home the same day as the test. The small amount of radioactive material in your body will decrease over the next few days. It will leave your body through urine and stool (pee and poop). To protect other people from the radioactive material, be careful when going to the bathroom:
- Carefully clean up any splashes.
- Flush the toilet twice.
- Wash your hands thoroughly.
Your healthcare provider may ask you to drink a lot of fluids to help your body rid itself of the radioactive agent faster. If you are travelling within three months of a gallium scan, you may need a special letter from your healthcare provider. Some airports have very sensitive detectors that can detect any trace of gallium left in your body.
What are the risks of a gallium scan?
Rarely, the injection can cause an allergic reaction, such as a skin rash or nausea.
Results and Follow-Up
When should I know the results of the gallium scan?
You should have the results of the test in two to three days. The radiologist has to:
- Examine the images.
- Write a report.
- Communicate the findings to the healthcare provider who ordered the test.
When should I call my doctor?
Gallium scans don’t usually cause any problems, but call your healthcare provider if you develop a rash or feel sick to your stomach.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
A gallium scan is a type of nuclear scan that can find cancer, infection or inflammation. The test is done over two to three appointments at the hospital. A gallium scan uses a small amount of radioactive substance, but it’s painless and safe.
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