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Home > Patient & Family Resources > Health Library > Salivary Gland Scan
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A salivary gland scan uses a special camera and a tracer (radioactive chemical) to take pictures of the salivary glands. This can help your doctor find the cause of dry mouth (xerostomia) or swelling in the salivary glands.
During a salivary gland scan, the tracer liquid is put into a vein (IV) in your arm. The tracer moves through your blood and into the salivary glands. A special camera takes pictures to show how much tracer stays in the salivary glands.
A salivary gland scan is done to:
Before the salivary gland scan, tell your doctor if you:
Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have regarding the need for the test, its risks, how it will be done, or what the results may mean. To help you understand the importance of this test, fill out the medical test information form.
A salivary gland scan is usually done by a nuclear medicine technologist. The pictures are usually interpreted by a radiologist or nuclear medicine specialist.
You will need to take off jewelry that may get in the way of the scan.
During a salivary gland scan, you will sit with the camera placed at your neck. A small amount of the tracer is put in your vein (IV).
The camera will scan for radiation released by the tracer. The pictures are taken every few minutes during the scan. You need to stay very still during the scan so the pictures are not blurry.
You may be asked to suck on a lemon after the first pictures are taken. This causes your salivary glands to release more saliva. Then more pictures are taken.
A salivary gland scan takes about 1 hour.
You will not feel pain during the test. You may feel a quick sting or pinch when the IV is put in your arm. The tracer may make you feel warm and flushed.
You may find it hard to lie still during the scan.
Allergic reactions to the tracer are very rare.
In some cases, soreness or swelling may develop at the IV site. Apply a moist, warm compress to your arm to relieve these symptoms.
Anytime you're exposed to radiation, there's a small chance of damage to cells or tissue. That's the case even with the low-level radioactive tracer used for this test. But the chance of damage is very low compared with the benefits of the test.
Most of the tracer will leave your body through your urine or stool within a day. So be sure to flush the toilet right after you use it, and wash your hands well with soap and water. The amount of radiation in the tracer is very small. This means it isn't a risk for people to be around you after the test.
A salivary gland scan uses a special camera and a tracer (radioactive chemical) to take pictures of the salivary glands.
The results of a salivary gland scan are usually available within 2 days.
The tracer moves evenly through the salivary glands and is released normally into the mouth.
The salivary ducts leading from the salivary glands are not blocked. Saliva is released in response to sucking on a lemon.
The tracer does not move evenly through the salivary glands. A pocket of fluid (cyst), a pocket of infection (abscess), or a tumor or other growth may be present.
The tracer may not flow normally from the salivary glands into the mouth. This may be caused by a tumor pressing on the duct, a stone in the duct, or inflammation of the duct.
The flow of tracer through the salivary glands is decreased. This may point to a condition, such as Sjögren's syndrome.
The amount of tracer in the salivary glands in front of the ear is greatly increased. This may indicate inflammation or infection of the parotid glands (parotitis).
Reasons you may not be able to have the test or why the results may not be helpful include:
Other Works Consulted
Fischbach FT, Dunning MB III, eds. (2009). Manual of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests, 8th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Current as of: December 9, 2019
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Adam Husney MD - Family MedicineMartin J. Gabica MD - Family MedicineHoward Schaff MD - Diagnostic Radiology
Current as of: December 9, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine & Howard Schaff MD - Diagnostic Radiology
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