Liver Scan Procedure Overview

(Liver-Spleen Scan, Liver Scintigraphy)

Procedure Overview

What is a liver scan?

A liver scan is a specialized radiology procedure used to examine the liver to identify certain conditions or to assess the function of the liver. A liver scan may also be used to follow the progress of treatment of certain conditions. This procedure may also be referred to as a liver-spleen scan because the spleen often is examined as well due to its proximity and close functional relationship to the liver.

A liver scan is a type of nuclear radiology procedure. This means that a tiny amount of a radioactive substance is used during the procedure to assist in the examination of the liver. The radioactive substance, called a radionuclide (radiopharmaceutical or radioactive tracer), is absorbed by normal liver tissue. The remainder of the radionuclide is absorbed by the bone marrow.

The radionuclide used in liver scans is usually a form of technetium. Once absorbed into the liver tissue, the radionuclide emits a type of radiation, called gamma radiation. The gamma radiation is detected by a scanner, which processes the information into a picture of the liver.

By measuring the behavior of the radionuclide in the body during a nuclear scan, the physician can assess and diagnose various conditions, such as tumors, abscesses, hematomas, organ enlargement, or cysts. A nuclear scan may also be used to assess organ function and blood circulation.

The areas where the radionuclide collects in greater amounts are called "hot spots." The areas that do not absorb the radionuclide and appear less bright on the scan image are referred to as "cold spots."

Other related procedures that may be used to diagnose problems of the liver include abdominal x-rays, abdominal ultrasound, computed tomography (CT scan) of the abdomen or liver, or a liver biopsy. Please see these procedures for additional information.

Anatomy of the liver:

The liver is the largest organ in the body. It is located in the upper right side of the abdomen, beneath the diaphragm, and on top of the stomach, right kidney, and intestines. Shaped like a cone, the liver is a dark reddish-brown organ.

The liver holds about one pint (13 percent) of the body's blood supply at any given moment. The liver consists of two main lobes, each made up of thousands of lobules. These lobules are connected to small ducts that connect with larger ducts to ultimately form the hepatic duct. The hepatic duct transports the bile (fluid that helps break down fats and gets rid of wastes in the body) produced by the liver cells to the gallbladder and duodenum (the first part of the small intestine).

The liver carries out many important functions, such as:

  • making bile - fluid that helps break down fats and gets rid of wastes in the body

  • changing food into energy

  • clearing the blood of drugs and other poisonous substances

  • producing certain proteins for blood plasma

  • regulating blood clotting

The spleen, an egg-shaped organ that lies between the stomach and the diaphragm on the left side of the body, helps to keep the blood healthy. The spleen plays a role in the production of lymphocytes (white blood cells that fight infection and disease), destruction of red blood cells, and filtration and storage of blood.

The biliary system consists of the organs and ducts (bile ducts, gallbladder, and associated structures) that are involved in the production and transportation of bile.

Reasons for the Procedure

A liver scan may be performed to screen for diseases such as cancer, hepatitis, or cirrhosis. Lesions such as tumors, abscesses, or cysts of the liver or spleen may be seen on a liver scan. A liver scan may be performed to assess the condition of the liver and/or spleen after trauma to the abdomen or when there is unexplained pain in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen. Enlargement of the liver or spleen may be seen on a liver scan.


Did You Know?

View Source

Half of those with IBS have symptoms before what age?