Every year, 48 million patients with cardiovascular disease or cancer worldwide use medicines made with medical isotopes. Medical isotopes form the basic ingredient of radiopharmaceutical products, which are used to detect (diagnose) or combat cardiovascular diseases and cancer cells (therapy).
Diagnosis with medical isotopes
To detect certain diseases, a small amount of light radioactive fluid is injected into the patient. That fluid simply leaves a ‘trace’ of radiation behind. A PET or a SPECT scan can detect that trace, from which the nuclear specialist can see how an organ functions or where a cancerous tumour is active.
Therapy with medical isotopes
Nuclear therapy simply means that the radiation of medical isotopes is used to kill cancer cells. This can be done externally – by the well-known radiation therapy – but also internally, where the isotopes with ‘tracers’ are placed in the correct area of the body (brachytherapy, see box).
The major advantage to this is that you can focus relatively precisely on the cancer cells, so that healthy cells are hardly affected. This makes nuclear therapy very effective, and it has fewer side effects than chemotherapy, for example.
In the animation below you can see which isotopes are currently being used in the HFR in Petten for diagnosis and therapy.