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Liver and Spleen Scan: About This Test

What is it?

A liver and spleen scan is a nuclear scanning test. It uses a special camera to take pictures of these organs after a radioactive tracer is put into a vein in your arm. The tracer moves through your blood to your liver and spleen. Areas where the tracer collects in large amounts show up as bright spots in the pictures. Areas where it collects in low amounts or does not show up are seen as blank spots. The pattern in which the tracer spreads through the liver and spleen can help find problems in these organs.

Scans of the liver and the spleen are done at the same time.

Why is this test done?

A liver and spleen scan is done to:

  • Help find cysts, abscesses, and diseases of the spleen or liver. If liver disease has been diagnosed, a liver scan can help show how well the liver is working.
  • Check for cirrhosis of the liver. In cirrhosis, healthy tissue in the liver is replaced with scar tissue.
  • Look for cancer in the liver.
  • See if cancer has spread (metastasized) to the liver or spleen.
  • Look for problems of the liver and spleen after a belly injury.

How can you prepare for the test?

Before your liver and spleen scan, tell your doctor if:

  • You are or might be pregnant.
  • You are breastfeeding.

What happens before the test?

  • You will need to take off any jewellery.
  • You may need to take off all or most of your clothes. You will be given a gown to wear during the test.
  • You will empty your bladder right before the scan.

What happens during the test?

  • A small amount of radioactive tracer will be injected into a vein in your arm.
  • You'll lie on your back on a table. A large scanning camera will be placed right above you. It may move slowly above and around your body, scanning for the tracer and recording pictures as the tracer moves into your liver and spleen. The camera does not give off any radiation, so you are not exposed to more radiation during the scan.
  • You may be asked to move into different positions so the tracer spreads through the liver and spleen. You need to lie very still during each scan so the pictures are clear.

What are the risks of this test?

  • There is always a small chance of damage to cells or tissue from being exposed to any radiation, even the low level radioactive tracer used for this test. But the chance of damage is usually very low compared with the benefits of the test.

How long does the test take?

  • The test will take about an hour.

What happens after the test?

  • Most of the tracer will leave your body through your urine or stool in a day. Be sure to flush the toilet right away and thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water after you use the washroom. Doing this will help prevent anyone else from being in touch with the tracer. The amount of radiation used in the scan is so small that people can be in contact with you after the test.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to keep a list of the medicines you take. Ask your doctor when you can expect to have your test results.

Where can you learn more?

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