Breast Scan

A breast scan is an imaging test to look at your breasts. It may also be called a scintimammography or nuclear medicine breast imaging. It’s used when a mammogram has not given your healthcare provider enough information. It’s not considered a primary test for screening and doesn’t replace the need for a mammogram.

A breast scan is a type of nuclear imaging test. This means that a tiny amount of a radioactive matter is used during the scan. The radioactive matter called tracer sends out gamma rays. These are picked up by the scanner to make a picture of your breasts. 

The areas of the breast where the radioactive tracer collects in greater amounts are called “hot spots.” The areas that don’t absorb the tracer and appear less bright on the scan image are referred to as “cold spots.” Cancer cells are usually found by hot spots in a breast scan.

A breast scan can be helpful in diagnosing breast cancer in younger women. Younger women usually have denser breasts than older women. Denser breast tissue can also happen because of:

  • Fibrocystic disease
  • Past breast surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Biopsy
  • Breast implants

You
may need a breast scan if the results of a mammogram are uncertain. Or your healthcare
provider may use a breast scan along with mammography or as a follow up to breast exams
or ultrasounds.

Your
healthcare provider may order a breast scan to:

  • Look for
    a tumor
  • See how
    well blood is flowing through your breast tissue
  • Follow
    up after surgery, chemotherapy, or other breast cancer treatment

Your
healthcare provider may have other reasons to recommend a breast scan. Talk with your
healthcare provider about the reason for your scan.

The risk from the radioactive tracer is very low. The amount used in the test is very small. You may feel some slight discomfort when the tracer is injected. Allergic reactions to the tracer are rare, but they may happen.

Lying on the scanning table during the procedure may cause some discomfort or pain for certain people.

Tell your healthcare provider if you are:

  • Allergic to or sensitive to medicines, contrast dyes, or latex
  • Pregnant or think that you might be pregnant. The scan may not be safe for the fetus.
  • Breastfeeding. The tracer may contaminate your breastmilk.
  • Are about to start your period. A scan done at this point may not be accurate.
  • Have
    any other health conditions 

You
may have other risks. Discuss any concerns with your healthcare provider before the
procedure.

  • Your healthcare provider will explain the procedure to you. Ask your provider any
    questions that you may have.
  • Make a
    list of questions you have about the procedure. Discuss these questions and any
    concerns with your healthcare provider before the procedure. Consider bringing a
    family member or trusted friend to the medical appointment to help you remember your
    questions and concerns.  
  • You may
    be asked to sign a consent form that gives permission to do the procedure. Read the
    form carefully and ask questions if anything is not clear.
  • You
    don’t need to stop eating or drinking before the test. You also will not need
    medicine to help you relax (sedation).
  • Tell
    your healthcare provider:

    • If you are allergic to or sensitive to latex, medicines,
      contrast dyes, or iodine
    • If you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant
    • About all medicines you are taking. This includes
      prescriptions, over-the-counter medicines, and herbal supplements.
  • Tell
    the technologist if you have breast implants.
  • Your
    healthcare provider may give you other instructions on what to do to get ready.

You may have a breast scan as an outpatient or as part of your stay in a hospital. The way the test is done may vary depending on your condition and your healthcare provider’s practices.

Generally, a breast scan follows this process:

  1. You will
    be asked to remove all jewelry and clothing above the waist. You will be given a gown
    to wear.
  2. An IV
    line will be started in your arm or hand opposite the breast to be looked at. If both
    breasts are being looked at, the IV may be started in a vein in a foot.
  3. The radionuclide will be injected into the IV. You may have a
    slight metallic taste after the injection. This should last only a few moments.
  4. You may
    be placed in different positions, depending on the type of machine being used. You
    may lie face down on a special table made for breast scans. The breast to be scanned
    will be placed through an opening in the table. Or you may have one of your breasts
    placed next to the camera of the scanner and compressed with a flat plate, just as
    with a mammogram. One breast is scanned and then the other breast is scanned. Some
    machines have cameras on each side of the breast.
  5. The technologist will start taking
    images a few minutes after the injection. He or she will place the scanner over the
    breast. Or the technologist may use at different kind of scan called SPECT.
  6. You may be asked to change positions
    during the scan. For example, you may lie on your back or sit up. You may be asked to
    sit with your arms straight out or above your head.
  7. When the scan is done, the IV will be
    removed.

The breast scan is not painful. But you may have some discomfort or pain from lying still during the test. This may be because of recent surgery or a joint injury. The technologist will use all possible comfort measures and do the scan as quickly as possible to minimize any discomfort or pain.

You should move slowly when getting up from the scanner table to avoid any dizziness or lightheadedness.

You may be told to drink plenty of fluids and empty your bladder often for 1 to 2 days after the scan. This will help flush the radioactive tracer from your body.

The medical staff will check the IV site for any signs of redness or swelling. Tell your healthcare provider if you see any pain, redness, or swelling at the IV site after you go home. These may be signs of infection or another type of reaction.

You may go back to your usual diet and activities as directed by your healthcare provider.

Your healthcare provider may give you other instructions, depending on your situation.

Before you agree to the test or the procedure make sure you know:

  • The
    name of the test or procedure
  • The
    reason you are having the test or procedure
  • What
    results to expect and what they mean
  • The
    risks and benefits of the test or procedure
  • What
    the possible side effects or complications are
  • When and
    where you are to have the test or procedure
  • Who
    will do the test or procedure and what that person’s qualifications are
  • What
    would happen if you did not have the test or procedure
  • Any
    alternative tests or procedures to think about
  • When and
    how you will get the results
  • Who to
    call after the test or procedure if you have questions or problems
  • How much
    you will have to pay for the test or procedure