Nuclear scan - technetium

Alternative names
Technetium scan; Liver technetium sulfur colloid scan; Liver-spleen radionuclide scan; Liver scan; Nuclear scan - liver or spleen

A liver scan uses a radioactive isotope to help determine how well the liver and/or spleen is functioning.

How the test is performed

A radioisotope is injected into a vein. After the liver has had sufficient time to absorb the radioisotope, you will be asked to lie on a table where you will be positioned under the scanner.

The scanner is able to detect where the radioisotope material is located, and images are displayed on a computer. The technician operating the camera and computer can manipulate the equipment to get a clearer picture. You may be asked to remain still, hold your breath for short periods, or to change positions during the scan.

How to prepare for the test

  • You must sign an informed consent form.  
  • Remove jewelry, dentures, and other metals because they can interfere with the scanner’s functions.  
  • You may need to wear a hospital gown.

Infants and children:
The physical and psychological preparation you can provide for this or any test or procedure depends on your child’s age, interests, previous experience, and level of trust. For specific information regarding how you can prepare your child, see the following topics as they correspond to your child’s age:

  • infant test or procedure preparation (birth to 1 year)  
  • toddler test or procedure preparation (1 to 3 years)  
  • preschooler test or procedure preparation (3 to 6 years)  
  • schoolage test or procedure preparation (6 to 12 years)  
  • adolescent test or procedure preparation (12 to 18 years)

How the test will feel
When the radioisotope is injected, there will be a sharp prick or stinging from the needle. After the injection, there is no pain. The major discomfort is from the need to lie still during the scan; but if you are very tense, you may be given a mild sedative.

Why the test is performed
This test is probably the best way to study the liver without surgery. It is particularly valuable because it can provide information about liver function. It is also used to help confirm other test results.

Normal Values
The liver and spleen should appear normal in size, shape, and location. The radioisotope is absorbed evenly.

What abnormal results mean

  • liver disease (such as cirrhosis or hepatitis)  
  • abnormal growths (primary or metastatic tumors)  
  • abscess  
  • infection  
  • injury  
  • portal hypertension (high pressure in the liver blood vessels)  
  • superior vena cava obstruction  
  • splenic infarction (tissue death)  
  • Budd-Chiari syndrome

Additional conditions under which the test may be performed:

What the risks are

There is some concern with radiation from any scan. However, the level of radiation in this procedure is less than that of most X-rays and is not considered significant enough to cause harm to the average person.

Pregnant or nursing women should consult their health care provider before any exposure to radiation, because fetuses and nursing babies are more sensitive to the effects of radiation.

Special considerations
Other tests may be needed to confirm the findings of this test, including abdominal ultrasound, abdominal CT scan, liver biopsy or spleen biopsy, or liver flow study.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 3, 2012
by Levon Ter-Markosyan, D.M.D.

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