Liver Scan

Definition

A liver scan uses a radioactive material to check how well the liver or spleen is working and to assess masses in the liver.

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 that can affect 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 is inserted into your vein. You should not feel anything during the actual scan. If you have problems lying still or are very anxious, you may be given a mild medicine (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.

The most common use for a liver scan is to diagnose a condition called benign focal nodular hyperplasia, or FNH, which causes a non-cancerous mass in the liver.

Normal Results

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

What Abnormal Results Mean

Abnormal results may indicate:

  • Focal nodular hyperplasia or adenoma of the liver
  • Abscess
  • Budd-Chiari syndrome
  • Infection
  • Liver disease (such as cirrhosis or hepatitis)
  • Superior vena cava obstruction
  • Splenic infarction (tissue death)
  • Tumors

Risks

Radiation from any scan is always a slight concern. The level of radiation in this procedure is less than that of most x-rays. It is not considered to be enough to cause harm to the average person.

Pregnant or nursing women should consult their provider before any exposure to radiation.

Considerations

Other tests may be needed to confirm the findings of this test. These may include:

  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Abdominal CT scan
  • Liver biopsy

This test is used infrequently. Instead, MRI or CT scans are more often used to evaluate the liver and spleen.

References

Lidofsky SD. Jaundice. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 21.

Lomas DJ, Mannelli L. The liver and spleen. In: Adam A, Dixon AK, Gillard JH, Schaefer-Prokop CM, eds. Grainger & Allison's Diagnostic Radiology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2015:chap 31.

Tirkes T, Sandrasegaran K. Investigative imaging of the liver. In: Saxena R, ed. Practical Hepatic Pathology: A Diagnostic Approach. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 4.

Review Date: 1/2/2017

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