A gallium scan is a nuclear medicine test that is conducted with a camera that detects gallium, which is a radionuclide—a radioactive chemical substance.
Gallium is known to accumulate in inflamed, infected or cancerous tissues. The scans are used to determine if a patient with an unexplained fever has an infection, and to identify the site of any infection. Gallium scans also may be used to evaluate cancer following chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
What to expect
Gallium scans usually require two visits to the nuclear medicine department. During the first appointment, which will last about 15 minutes, you will be given an injection of gallium into a vein in your arm. The injection will cause no more discomfort than having blood drawn.
You will be scheduled to return for imaging 72 hours later. Imaging may involve several close-up views, whole body scanning or tomography.
During the imaging process, you must lie very still on an imaging table for about 30 to 60 minutes. A camera will be moved across your body to detect and capture images of concentrations of the gallium. Back (posterior) and front (anterior) views usually are taken, and sometimes a side (lateral) view is used. The camera may occasionally touch your skin, but will not cause any discomfort. The camera will detect signals from any areas in which the radionuclide has accumulated.
Generally, no special dietary restrictions are necessary. The physician may ask you to confine your diet to light or clear meals within the day before the procedure. Many patients will be given laxatives or an enema just before the scan to eliminate any residual gallium from the bowels.
Side effects and complications
Diagnostic nuclear medicine exams produce no known side effects or complications.
Generally, no follow-up care is required for a gallium scan. Contact your doctor for any further instructions.
Women who are nursing infants are cautioned against breast-feeding for four weeks following a gallium scan.