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Gallium scan

Definition

A gallium scan is a test to look for swelling (inflammation), infection, or cancer in the body.  It uses a radioactive material called gallium and is a type of nuclear medicine exam.

A related test is gallium scan of the lung.

Alternative Names

Liver gallium scan; Bony gallium scan

How the Test is Performed

You will get a radioactive material called gallium injected into your vein. The gallium travels through the bloodstream and collects in the bones and certain organs.

Your health care provider will tell you to return at a later time to be scanned. The scan will take place 6 - 24 hours after the gallium is injected. The test time depends on what condition your doctor is looking for.

You will lie on your back on the scanner table. A special camera detects where the gallium has gathered in the body.

You must lie still during the scan, which takes 30 - 60 minutes.

How to Prepare for the Test

Stool in the bowel can interfere with the test. You may need to take a laxative the night before you have the test. Or, you may get an enema 1 - 2 hours before the test. You may eat and drink liquids normally.

You will need to sign a consent form. You will need to take off all jewelry and metal objects before the test.

How the Test Will Feel

You will feel a sharp prick when you get the injection. The site may be sore for a few minutes.

The hardest part of the scan is holding still. The scan itself is painless. The technician can help make you comfortable before the scan begins.

Why the Test is Performed

This test may be done to look for the cause of a fever. It is used most often to look for a cancer of the lymph system called lymphoma.

Normal Results

Gallium normally collects in bones, the liver, spleen, the large bowel, and breast tissue.

What Abnormal Results Mean

Gallium detected outside normal areas can be a sign of:

The test may be done to look for lung conditions such as:

Risks

There is a small risk of radiation exposure (less than with x-rays or CT scans). Pregnant or nursing women and young children should avoid radiation exposure if at all possible. 

Considerations

Not all cancers show up on a gallium scan.

References

Segerman D, Miles KA. Radionuclide imaging: general principles. In: Adam A, Dixon AK, eds. Grainger & Allison's Diagnostic Radiology: A Textbook of Medical Imaging. 5th ed. New York, NY: Churchill Livingstone;2008:chap 7.

Vinnicombe SJ, Reznek RH. Reticuloendothelial disorders: lymphoma. In: Adam A, Dixon AK, eds. Grainger & Allison's Diagnostic Radiology: A Textbook of Medical Imaging. 5th ed. New York, NY: Churchill Livingstone;2008:chap 72.


Review Date: 11/9/2012
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.
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