Radiopharmaceuticals are radioactive medications (radioisotopes) that are used to diagnose or treat cancer. These medications can be delivered orally (in pill form), intravenously (injected into a patient’s vein) or interstitially (inserted into a cavity in the body). Although radiopharmacology is considered a subspecialty of radiation therapy, regulations require that the drugs be administered by a medical professional who specializes in nuclear medicine.
Every radiopharmaceutical is designed to travel to a different part of the body. Once it has arrived at its destination, it will release radioactive agents to destroy the tumor cells. To date, researchers have discovered radiopharmaceuticals that can target the following cancers:
- Thyroid cancer
- Brain cancer
- Cancers that have spread to the bones
Radiopharmaceuticals can also be used to diagnose certain cancers, as oncologists can track radioactivity throughout the body after the drugs are administered to determine if cancer is present. This requires the use of a special imaging system, such as a gamma camera or a similar gamma imaging device. When radiopharmaceuticals are used for diagnostic purposes, the drugs are known as “tracers.” Diagnostic radiopharmaceuticals contain smaller amounts of radiation than those that are used for treatment.
Medically reviewed by Dr. Kosj Yamoah
At Moffitt Cancer Center, our radiation oncologists are highly skilled in the use of radiopharmaceuticals for both diagnostic and therapeutic purposes. Our team can help determine if radiopharmaceuticals would be a beneficial option for you. To schedule an appointment, call 1-888-663-3488 or submit a new patient registration form online. No referral is required.