This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by
Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science at CTCA.

This page was updated on February 28, 2022.

What is a MUGA scan?

A multigated acquisition (MUGA) scan is an imaging test that may help determine how well the heart is functioning. It generates internal images of the heart and checks whether blood is being properly pumped through its lower chambers.

The imaging test has two main elements:

  • A special scanner (large camera) to take the pictures
  • A “tracer,” which acts as a dye in the blood to highlight some of the blood cells

Before the procedure, the tracer, which is a small amount of radioactive material, is injected into a vein through an intravenous (IV) line. The tracer follows red blood cells and reveals how blood travels through the heart while the scanner takes pictures.

Why is it performed?

Certain types of chemotherapy drugs or other cancer drugs may damage the heart. Before, during or after treatment with these drugs, a MUGA scan may be used to check on the heart and make sure it’s operating normally. If a MUGA scan reveals any abnormalities that may be due to treatment, your doctor may recommend a different drug

However, there are other ways to check for heart problems, and your doctor may recommend different imaging tests, such as an echocardiogra

Cancer treatments may lead to long-term side effects. MUGA scans may also be used to check for heart problems in patients with certain past cancer treatments, such as:

  • Radiation therapy in the chest area
  • Some types of chemotherapy drugs
  • Bone marrow/stem cell transplants

What to expect

A MUGA scan is an outpatient procedure, which means most people go home the same day as the procedure. To undergo a MUGA scan, you may likely visit a hospital or an outpatient imaging facility.

The scan is performed by a technologist and evaluated afterward by a cardiologist or radiologist.

Your doctor may give you specific instructions before the test. In general:

  • You may be told not to eat or drink within four to six hours of the test and to cut out caffeine and tobacco for 24 hours leading up to it.
  • Check with your doctor if you have any concerns or questions about the instructions or getting the scan. Feel free to ask about the risks and benefits of any test, the cost, and what the next steps may be based on the results.

Once you arrive at the facility and are ready for a MUGA scan, the person performing the scan places electrodes on your chest. The electrodes are small, plastic patches that stick to the skin and measure your heart rate throughout the scan.

An IV line is inserted into a vein to inject the tracer. Once IV access is established, the remainder of the procedure should cause no discomfort.

Next, you may be asked to lie down while the scanner is positioned over your chest. The scanner takes pictures from various angles, tracking how the tracer moves through your heart. Each image takes about five minutes to complete. Between pictures, you may need to move around and get your heart rate up to show how well your heart functions under stress.

In total, a MUGA scan may take up to three hours to complete.

Understanding scan results

Your doctor typically contacts you when the results from the scan are ready. The results will include the ejection fraction (EF)—a measure of how much blood is pumped out of the heart. An EF of 50 percent or higher is considered a normal result and indicates that the heart is doing its job of pumping blood throughout the body. A result of less than 50 percent may indicate a heart problem, but your doctor will tell you if it's something to be concerned about. If you're currently being treated with chemotherapy or another cancer drug that may be causing the problem, your doctor may recommend an adjustment to your treatment plan.

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