Testing: The Gallium Scan

A gallium scan uses a radioactive compound called gallium citrate to detect and image inflammation in the body. The gallium citrate acts as a radiotracer, a compound that attaches to specific cells or tissues in the body and emits radiation. These beams are then picked up by a scanner which maps their origin.

In a gallium scan, the radiotracer attaches to white blood cells (WBCs) and tumor cells. Since WBCs collect in areas of inflammation, the gallium locates to damaged areas in the body. This damage can indicate tumor metastasis, or it can result from chemotherapy or radiation. For this reason, gallium scans can help locate tumors in lymphomas as well as monitor the effectiveness of treatment protocols.

The process begins when a patient is injected with the gallium citrate. About two days later, the patient will report back to the health care facility for the actual scan. This time lapse allows the gallium to spread throughout the body to all areas of inflammation.

This scan is not suited for pregnant women or anyone who has had a recent scan or X-ray with barium contrast. If you are breast-feeding, the doctor will provide you with instructions on how to best care for your baby during this time. Because gallium stays in the body for several days, you cannot breastfeed during the scan. Oftentimes, mothers must wait four weeks before resuming breast-feeding.

Some patients will also need to receive an enema prior to scanning. The intestines remove gallium from the system; an enema prevents false positives.

Why a Gallium Scan?

The gallium scan is capable of identifying inflammation, which other scans cannot do.

Learn More About Similar Tests

Photo of Gallium Crystals by G. Patton

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