MIBG scan

An MIBG scan is a nuclear medicine imaging test. It combines a small amount of radioactive material with a substance called metaiodobenzylguanidine (MIBG) to find certain types of tumours in the body.

An MIBG scan may also be called MIBG scintigraphy or MIBG scintiscan.

Why an MIBG scan is done

MIBG is absorbed by specialized cells called neuroendocrine cells. You have these cells throughout your body.

An MIBG scan is usually done to find and diagnose certain types of tumours, including:

  • pheochromocytoma, a tumour of the adrenal gland
  • neuroblastoma, a tumour that starts in immature nerve cells

Getting ready for an MIBG scan

Some medicines can affect the test. You may be asked to stop taking certain medicines, including cold and allergy drugs, for several days before the test. Talk to your healthcare team about which medicines you should avoid and for how long.

You will need to take a special iodine solution or potassium iodide tablets to help protect your thyroid from the radioactive material used in the test. Most people start taking the medicine 1 day before the test and continue taking it for 2 or 3 days.

How an MIBG scan is done

An MIBG scan is usually done in the nuclear medicine department of a hospital as an outpatient procedure (you will not stay overnight). The test is done in stages and takes 2 to 4 days to complete.

On the first day you will have the radioactive MIBG injected into a vein in your arm or hand. It needs about 24 hours to travel throughout your body and get absorbed by the cells. You will be given a time, usually for the next day, to return to the department for a scan.

When having the scan, you lie very still on a table while a special camera or scanner moves over your body and takes pictures. It usually takes 1 to 2 hours to complete.

Another scan might be done 48 hours after the injection. In some cases a scan may also be done 72 hours after the injection.

After an MIBG scan

It will take a few days for the radioactive material to leave your body through your urine or stool. You won’t notice any changes to your urine or stool. Drinking lots of fluids after the test will help flush it from your body. You will probably be told to wash your hands thoroughly after going to the bathroom.

Side effects

There are rarely any side effects from an MIBG scan. The injection of the radioactive MIBG can cause high blood pressure, but this is not common. Your blood pressure might be checked after the injection to make sure it is normal.

What the results mean

A nuclear medicine doctor looks at the images from the scans and prepares a report with the results. The doctor looks for spots on the images that show where the MIBG has collected. These spots can show where tumours have started and if they have spread anywhere else in the body.

Your doctor will decide if you need more tests, any treatment or follow-up care.

Special considerations for children

Preparing children before a test or procedure can lower anxiety, increase cooperation and help them develop coping skills. Preparation includes explaining to children what will happen during the test, including what they will see, feel, hear, taste or smell. Some young children may be given a sedative to help them lie still during the scans.

Preparing a child for an MIBG scan depends on the age and experience of the child. Find out more about helping your child cope with tests and treatments.

Expert review and references

Medical disclaimer

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