A liver-spleen scan is a type of a nuclear imaging test performed to detect abnormalities of the liver and spleen.
The liver is one of the largest and most important organs in the body. It performs a multitude of functions, including storing nutrients; removing waste products and worn-out cells from the blood; filtering and processing chemicals in food, alcohol, and medications; and producing bile, a solution that helps digest fats and eliminate waste products.
However, if your liver is diseased or injured, it can have difficulty doing its job properly. If that occurs, your physician may recommend a liver-spleen scan to find out what is wrong. The scan can provide your physician with valuable information that can be helpful in creating a suitable treatment plan.
Your physician may order a liver-spleen scan to:
- Look for abscesses, cysts, and disorders of the liver or spleen
- See how well the liver and spleen are working
- Check for cancer in the liver or spleen
- Detect the spread of cancer (metastasis) to the liver or spleen
- Inspect the condition of the liver and spleen following trauma or injury to the abdomen
- Assess for cirrhosis of the liver where healthy liver tissue is replaced with scar tissue.
In general, preparation for a liver-spleen scan involves the following:
- A review of your medical history and a thorough physical examination
- Routine blood work, imaging, and other tests specific to your condition
- Informing your doctor of any allergies to medications, latex, iodine, or contrast dyes
- Informing your doctor if you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant
- You will be asked to empty your bladder just before the scan
- Informing your doctor of a recent barium test or nuclear medicine test
- Signing an informed consent form after the procedure has been explained
A liver-spleen scan takes about 1 hour and will generally involve the following process:
- You will be asked to remove any jewelry, clothing, or other items that may interfere with the procedure and given a hospital gown to wear.
- You will lie on a table, and a radionuclide or radioactive tracer is injected through an intravenous (IV) line into your arm.
- The radioactive tracer moves through your blood to your liver and spleen and is allowed to concentrate in the liver tissue for about 30 minutes.
- You will be advised to lie still on the scanning table, as any movement can impact the quality of the scan.
- The scanner is positioned over the right upper quadrant of the abdomen to detect the gamma rays emitted by the radioactive tracer in the liver tissue.
- You may be repositioned during the scan to obtain views of all the organ surfaces.
- Regions where the tracer accumulates in large quantity will show up as bright spots in the images, whereas regions where it accumulates in low quantity or does not show up at all appear as dark or blank spots.
- The pattern in which the tracer spreads through the liver and spleen helps locate abscesses, cysts, cirrhosis, tumors, or other problems with liver-spleen function.
- When the scan has been completed, the IV line is removed.
Following the procedure, you are monitored for a short period, and then can resume your regular activities. A radiologist will interpret the images, write a report, and deliver the results to your doctor, usually within 2 days. The radioactive substance will exit your body through your urine or stool within a day. You are advised to facilitate this process by drinking plenty of fluids. Make sure to flush the toilet after use and wash your hands well with soap and water. The quantity of radiation in the tracer is extremely small, so it is not a risk for people to be around you after the test.
Risks and Complications
A liver-spleen scan has very few risks. In some instances, you may develop redness, soreness, swelling, or infection at the IV injection site. Allergic reactions to the radioactive tracer are rare. There is also a very small chance of damage to cells or tissue due to exposure to radiation.
A liver-spleen scan employs a trace amount of radioactive material, also known as radionuclide, to take images of your liver and spleen to examine their condition. The scan is basically painless with minimal risks. Follow-up care is a crucial part of your treatment plan, so it is important to keep all follow-up appointments and call your doctor if you experience any problems.