What to Expect During a Gallium Scan

A gallium scan is a safe, painless nuclear medicine procedure that takes pictures of the tissues and organs in your body. Small amounts of radioactive material and special scanning equipment are used to provide reliable, valuable information about your condition. Gallium scans are often done as part of a check-up to be sure that certain areas of the body are free of cancer, and to help determine the effectiveness of cancer treatments. The total exposure to radiation is low.

Gallium citrate, which contains a small amount of radioactive material, is injected into a vein in your arm. After 48 - 72 hours, the radioactive material has collected in the cells that are reproducing rapidly. (Cancer cells reproduce rapidly, but so do some of the normal cells in your body.) Weak rays from the medication electronically make an image (a picture) on photographic film. A doctor trained in nuclear medicine will study this picture to identify changes or problem areas. He or she will make a report to your doctor who will discuss the results with you.

Preparing for Your Gallium Scan

After reporting to the receptionist in the Nuclear Medicine Department, you will be taken to an examination room.

Tell your doctor if you:

  • are (or could be) pregnant or if you are breastfeeding
  • have any barium tests (barium swallow or enema) in the last few days use any medications or preparations that contain bismuth (for example, Pepto-Bismol┬« or Kaopectate┬«). If you are not sure, check with your doctor or pharmacist.

A certified technologist or physician will inject the gallium into a vein, usually in your arm. You will be given an appointment to return to the Department in 3 days. To ensure accurate results, you must keep this appointment. If, for some unavoidable reason, you are unable to do so, please notify the Nuclear Medicine Department immediately.

The doctor will prescribe a laxative for you to take on the 3 nights before the scan is done. The laxative helps remove excess gallium, which tends to build up in the intestines before it is eliminated in your stool. Removing the excess gallium will help create clearer pictures.

The Day of Your Gallium Scan

  • Please do not wear clothing with metal accessories; metal can interfere with the picture.
  • For your comfort and a clearer picture, please empty your bladder before the scan begins.
  • You will be helped onto the scanning machine, which consists of a firm bed with a camera overhead.
  • A technologist will help position you and adjust the camera.
  • As you lie on your back, the scanner will be positioned over you and will begin to move over the length of your body. The pictures taken will show the distribution of the gallium in your body.
  • Try to relax, breathe normally and lie very still. Too much movement will cause a poor quality picture that is difficult to interpret.
  • If necessary, additional views may be taken.
  • The scan usually takes about 1 hour.

After the Scan

The camera will be moved out of the way and you will be helped from the scanning machine. There are no side effects from the gallium scan and you can resume normal activities.

Risks

  • The radioactive material presents no immediate danger to you or to those around you. No special precautions are needed. It is safe for you to be near others during and immediately after the scan.
  • Within 72 hours after the injection, more than 2/3 of the radioactivity is either expended or eliminated from your body. After 96 hours, the radioactivity is reduced further.
  • No side effects are associated with the radionueclide tracer.