What Is a Gallium Scan?
A gallium scan is a diagnostic test that looks for infection,
inflammation, and tumors. Gallium is a radioactive metal. The scan is generally
performed in the nuclear medicine department of a hospital.
The gallium is mixed into a solution. It’s injected into
your arm and moves through your blood, collecting in your organs and bones.
Your body will then be scanned to see where and how the gallium has accumulated
in your body.
Gallium is radioactive, but the risk of radiation exposure
from this procedure is lower than from an X-ray or CT scan. Aside from the injection,
the test is painless and requires very little preparation. However, the scan
takes place several hours after the gallium injection, so schedule your
Purpose of a Gallium Scan
Your doctor may order a gallium scan if you have unexplained
pains or fever, or if cancer is suspected. The scan is also used as a follow-up
test for patients who have been diagnosed or treated for cancer. Additionally,
it can be used to inspect the lungs.
Purpose of a Gallium Scan of the Lungs
In a gallium scan of the lungs, your lungs should look
normal in size and texture and should have collected very little gallium.
Abnormal results could indicate:
which occurs when chronic inflammatory cells form nodules on multiple
tumor in the lung
of the lung, which is an autoimmune disease that damages vital organs
- a pulmonary
embolus, which is an arterial blockage
pulmonary hypertension, which is high blood pressure in the arteries of
This test isn’t foolproof. It’s important to note that not
all cancers or small defects will show up in the gallium scan.
Preparation for a Gallium Scan
There’s no need to fast. No additional medications are
required for this test except for gallium. In some cases, you may need to use a
laxative or an enema to clear your bowels before the scan. This will prevent
stool from interfering with the test results.
Notify your doctor if you’re pregnant, think you may be
pregnant, or you’re nursing. Tests involving radiation are not recommended for
women who are pregnant or nursing and should not be performed on very young
children if an alternative test is available.
How a Gallium Scan Works
This is an outpatient procedure, which means that you can go
home on the day of the test.
When you arrive at the hospital, a technician will inject a
gallium solution into a vein in your arm. You may feel a sharp prick and the
site may be tender for a few minutes.
After the injection, you’ll be able to leave the hospital as
the gallium begins moving through your bloodstream, collecting in your bones
and organs. You’ll be asked to return to the hospital at a specific time for
the scan, usually between six and 48 hours after you receive the injection.
When you return, you’ll change into a hospital gown, remove
all jewelry and other metal, and lie on your back on a firm table. A scanner
will slowly move around your body while a special camera detects where the
gallium has collected in your body. The camera’s images can be viewed on a
The scanning process takes between 30 and 60 minutes. It’s
important to remain completely still during the scan. The scanner doesn’t touch
you directly, and the procedure is painless.
Some people find the hard table uncomfortable and have
trouble remaining still. If you think you’ll have trouble lying still, tell
your doctor before the test. The doctor may give you a sedative or antianxiety
medication to help.
In some instances, the scan may be repeated over the course
of several days. In this case, you’ll not need to have additional gallium
Interpreting Your Results
A radiologist will review your scans and send a report to
your doctor. Normally, the gallium will collect in your:
- breast tissue
- large bowel
Cancer cells and other compromised tissues take up gallium more
readily than healthy tissues. Gallium that collects in other sites could be a
sign of an infection, inflammation, or a tumor.
Is a Gallium Scan Dangerous?
There’s a small risk of complications from radiation
exposure, but it’s less than the risk involved with X-rays or CT scans. The
risk of complications increases if you have many gallium scans over time.
A trace amount of gallium may remain in your tissues for a
few weeks, but your body will eliminate the gallium naturally.