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Therapeutic Nuclear Medicine

What is Therapeutic Nuclear Medicine

In therapeutic nuclear medicine (radionuclide therapy), the unique characteristics of radioactive materials (radioisotopes) are used for therapeutic irradiation of cells and/or organs. Typically, a small amount of a radiopharmaceutical* is introduced into the body by injection or ingestion. The radiopharmaceutical is attracted to particular organs or tissues. From their locations within the body, the radioisotope releases small amounts of energy (radiation) which will act on cells (target cells) and/or organs (target organs). This irradiation can be for the purpose of a curative treatment (for instance thyroid cancer), palliative treatment (for instance for bone pain) or to reduce an organ’s function (for instance an over-active thyroid).
* Radiopharmaceuticals are molecules or chemicals that are attached to a small amount of radioactive isotope that once administered to the patient are able to specifically localize within organs and/or organ systems in health and disease.

Some common procedures

What are the benefits versus risks

Some common procedures

Radionuclide therapy is used by your doctor as part of your overall treatment.
Some common types of radionuclide therapy are:

  • Treatment of over-active thyroid
  • Treatment of thyroid cancer
  • Palliative treatment of bone pain caused by metastatic cancers
  • Treatment of blood disorders
  • Chronic inflammatory rheumatism
  • Treatment of Non-Hodgkins lymphoma

What are the benefits versus risks


  • Radionuclide therapy is a non-invasive treatment and therefore less traumatic than surgery.
  • It is a systemic treatment, which means that it targets sites which may not be known to exist by your doctor.
  • The treatment normally consists of only one injection or oral dose.


  • The total radiation received from radionuclide therapy is generally so low that there is an insignificant risk that it will cause cancer in the future. Some less common procedures, for instance treatment of blood disorders are associated with some risks. How big the risk is and whether it is associated with the radionuclide therapy is still under debate by experts.
  • Effects on the blood forming organs are usually short lasting and should be controlled by your doctor.
  • Radionuclide therapy is not carried out on pregnant women.
  • Allergic reactions to the radiopharmaceutical can occur, but are extremely rare.

Hospital services A-Z

Poole Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Longfleet Road, Poole, Dorset BH15 2JB. Tel: 01202 665511

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