Liver scan

Definition

A liver scan uses a radioactive material to help determine how well the liver or spleen is working.

Alternative Names

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

How the test is performed

The health care provider will inject a radioactive material called a radioisotope into one of your veins. After the liver has soaked up the material, you will be asked to lie on a table under the scanner.

The scanner can tell where the radioactive material has gathered in the body. Images are displayed on a computer. You may be asked to remain still, or to change positions during the scan.

How to prepare for the test

You must sign a consent form. You will be asked to remove jewelry, dentures, and other metals because they can interfere with the scanner's functions.

You may need to wear a hospital gown.

How the test will feel

You will feel a sharp prick when the needle with the radioactive substance is inserted into your vein. You shouldn’t feel anything during the actual scan. If you have difficulty lying still or are very anxious, you may be given a mild sedative to help you relax.

Why the test is performed

The test can provide information about liver and spleen function. It is also used to help confirm other test results.

Currently, the most common use for a liver scan is to diagnose a condition called benign focal nodular hyperplasia, or FNH.

Normal Values

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

What abnormal results mean

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. Additional tests may include an abdominal ultrasound, abdominal CT scan, liver biopsy, or liver flow study.

Most often, CT or MRI scans are used to evaluate the liver and spleen instead of a liver scan.

Figures

Liver scan

References

Lidofsky S. Jaundice. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 20.

Lomas DJ. The liver. In: Adam A, Dixon A, eds. Grainger and Allison’s Diagnostic Radiology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2008:chap 35.

Revision

Last reviewed 1/31/2011 by David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; Jason Levy, MD, Northside Radiology Associates, Atlanta, Georgia. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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