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Difference Between a Bone Scan and a PET Scan

Bone Scan vs PET Scan

A bone scan is a process that examines the body’s internal bone structure using nuclear scanning.  This allows the identification of bone growth or perhaps the breakdown of these in the human body.  This type of examination helps to evaluate any damage that presents in the bones.  A PET scan, also known as Positron Emission Topography, does not use nuclear scanning techniques.  Instead, it works by using a special type of camera and tracer that can look deep inside the human body to examine the organs and other internal structures. The tracer usually used is glucose as this can help in the metabolic process in the cells inside the body.

The purpose of the procedures also differ.  A PET scan is used to determine the blood flow in the brain and other metabolic processes.  Consequently, its main use is to detect any nervous system diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.  A bone scan, on the other hand, works to determine the extent of the spread of cancer in the bones.  It is also used to determine whether the spread of the disease has affected other areas such as the kidneys and prostate gland.

A bone scan works by simply capturing images with the use of a nuclear radiation tracer.  A PET scan also works by inserting a tracer intravenously into a vein.  The difference is that in a bone scan, the tracer will take around five to six hours before it is able to attach to the bone so that the device can capture images clearly. For a PET scan, the tracer can easily move in the system in only 30 to 60 minutes.  During a bone scan, the patient is required to drink around four to six glasses of water.  This is to help remove from the bladder the radioactive substance that would otherwise block the camera from capturing images of the pelvic bones.

Different equipment is used to capture the images; a bone scan uses a tool called a gamma camera.  A PET scanner, on the other hand, is a specially-designed piece of equipment shaped like a doughnut.  The areas tested also differ. A PET scan covers areas such as the heart, and the brain and also for tumor detection in areas all over the body.  A Bone scan, however, focuses only on aspects affecting the bones in the entire human body. This test can be completed in only an hour or less, while a PET scan often takes one to three hours.


1. A bone scan focuses on determining bone growth and the development of any diseases in the bones, while a PET scan focuses on other organs of the body such as the heart and the brain.
2. A bone scan uses a radioactive tracer that is inserted via an IV that will spread through the body and attach to the bones for capture while a PET scan uses glucose as a tracer.
3. A PET scan does not require any fluid intake during the process, while a bone scan requires around four to six glasses of water.

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  1. This is an excellent explanation–thank you very much.

  2. Had a bone scan recently. Only waited 3 hours and was not told anything about drinking 4 to 6 glasses of water. Will the scan still be accurate.

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