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What is a Gallium Scan?

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  • Written By: Nat Robinson
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2016
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A gallium scan is a kind of nuclear medicine test. The scan is generally used to detect inflammation or swelling in the body. It uses a radioactive gallium tracer to locate the inflammation. Special gamma cameras are used to follow the tracer through the body. Typically, one of the most common types of this test is a lung gallium scan, which searches for swelling in lung tissue.

When there is inflammation in the body, white blood cells tend to collect in those areas. The radioactive tracers used in a gallium scan are beneficial because they attach to white blood cells, making the presence of inflammation visible. Inflammation can be picked up in several different parts of the body by this test. It may be seen in the glands, tissues, bones, and even blood vessels. The scan may be used to diagnose a condition and monitor how well treatment is working for a pre-diagnosed illness.

There are several reasons why a person may be sent for a gallium scan. This type of scan may be used on individuals suspected to have a lung condition. It may also be used to detect a metastasis of certain cancers. Sometimes, when an individual has reoccurring fevers with no known cause, he or she will undergo this scan to locate an infection site. People on antibiotics for long periods of time may have a gallium scan to ensure that the antibiotics are working.

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It may take a couple of days for the gallium radioactive tracer to properly build up in the body. For this reason, individuals may get the tracer injection and come back for the scan a day or two later. During the scan, an individual will lie on a table and a gamma camera will scan the body part being examined. It will be important to lie still as the camera takes pictures, as any uninstructed movement can alter the results of the test. Generally, the scan will take from one to two hours to complete.

To prepare for a gallium scan, an individual may be requested to take a laxative in the hours preceding the test. This may be done to eliminate any lingering gallium from the intestines. It will also be important to inform a physician of certain conditions before having the scan. If a woman is or suspects that she is pregnant, she should make this known to the doctor beforehand. In addition, breastfeeding may need to be stopped for an extended period following the scan, so the gallium is not passed to the child.

In most cases, it may take a couple of days to get the results of a gallium scan. It can be expected to discover gallium in small amounts in the colon, bones, breast tissue and liver, as this is generally normal. A collection of the gallium tracer in a part of the body where gallium is not usually found may denote an abnormality. The abnormality could mean simple inflammation in that body part or a benign or malignant tumor. In general, the results of the scan can lead doctors toward the best type of treatment for the cause of the abnormality.

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